Children with Mesothelioma
It can be particularly troubling when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Childhood cancer is often a difficult battle, not only for the child, but also for the parents and loved ones who may have trouble accepting and coping with the ramifications of a serious illness.
Fortunately, there are several support structures available, not only for pediatric cancer patients, but for family members and loved ones as well. Children, while often fearful and naïve as to the gravity of a potentially terminal illness, also tend to possess strength of human spirit that is difficult to find in other older individuals. Clearly, there is enough inspiration to be found in the millions of children who have already overcome cancer to inspire hope for the future and a cure.
In this section, we examine several aspects of childhood cancer, including children that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Please see our comprehensive cancer resource directory below to find out more about childhood cancer support programs that are available in your area.
Mesothelioma is a form of asbestos cancer that has a lengthy latency period and is primarily associated with industrial exposure. This type of cancer is usually diagnosed in older men. In fact, the average age at the time of diagnosis is sixty-five.
Malignant mesothelioma, although extremely rare in children, has been known to occur. A study carried out and published in the late 1980s examined eighty children who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma; only five percent of these subjects, however, had a known history of asbestos exposure. Of the eighty children studied, four had been knowingly exposed to asbestos, one had received radiation treatments, and another had suffered from prenatal exposure to a drug known as isoniazid, which is used in the treatment of tuberculosis.
It was later determined that only ten of the children in this study actually had mesothelioma cancer; the other children had been diagnosed with different forms of cancer. Six of the ten children were boys and eight were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. Two of the children were mesothelioma survivors until the age of nineteen.
In another study, the cases and death certificates of 42,597 children who had died of childhood cancer in the U.S. during the 1960s were examined and reviewed. Of these, only 31 had been diagnosed with mesothelioma disease, and less than half of those could be confirmed by hospital records. Unfortunately, there was no history of asbestos exposure in any of the thirteen confirmed mesothelioma cases.
How Does a Child Develop Mesothelioma?
Children may experience direct exposure to asbestos in the home. This will occur when there are damaged or worn asbestos fibers that have been released into the air from old insulation or other old building materials. In this scenario, the child would inhale the fibers, which would then become lodged in the chest or abdominal area, eventually causing the formation of mesothelioma cancer.
Children can also suffer secondary exposure. This type of exposure occurs when someone else in the household works with asbestos—which is rare these days—and brings home toxic dust on clothing or in his/her hair. The child can breathe in these asbestos fibers and may eventually become ill due to exposure to this hazardous substance.
Diagnosing the Disease in Children
Doctors don’t generally consider a mesothelioma diagnosis when examining a child who is exhibiting similar symptoms to those experienced by adults who have the disease, so children usually undergo a battery of many tests before definitive diagnosis is made.
According to a study by Dr. Cesar A. Moran of Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, most children who develop the disease are diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma as opposed to pleural mesothelioma that is most commonly found in adults. That is one of the reasons so many diagnostic tests are necessary. “You have to do immunohistochemical tests to make sure you aren’t dealing with another tumor that has metastasized into the peritoneum,” Moran notes in his report.
Treating Children with Mesothelioma
Because there are so few cases of children with this disease, there is really no standard protocol for its treatment when it strikes at such a young age. As with adults, oncologists will usually recommend a course of chemotherapy and/or radiation and may suggest surgery as a palliative measure. Unfortunately, children with mesothelioma cancer face a very poor prognosis. Moran believes that as more treatment options emerge for adult mesothelioma, children with the disease will benefit from these findings as well and may face a better prognosis in the future.
Child and Family Support Resources
Dealing with cancer can be extremely difficult for families. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available today to help families cope with cancer, regardless of the age of the patient. Many of the resources are available at the click of a button while others are much more personal, involving direct contact with patients and families who are dealing with similar situations.
It’s important to remember that you and/or your family aren’t alone in facing mesothelioma or other types of cancer. A support system has been put in place nationwide so that no one has to deal with cancer on their own. Taking advantage of these resources is a sign of strength, not of weakness, and patients and their families should eagerly search for those which can be of the greatest help to them.
Support Groups for those Battling Cancer
Some people think of support groups as meetings where individuals sit in a circle and complain about their problems. While this might be true in some cases, studies show that most cancer patients and their families who participate in support groups find it much either to cope with their disease or the disease their loved one is facing.
The most important aspect of support groups is that they put patients and their families in contact with others who are facing the same challenges. While friends and extended family profess to “understand what you’re going through”, no one truly knows the rigors of dealing with cancer until they face it head on. Hence, support groups can be an important part of the coping process, both during the battle with the disease and after a loved one has passed away from cancer.
These days, it’s easier than ever to join a cancer support group, including one that is particularly aimed at those facing mesothelioma. The best first place to look is at your local hospital. It is likely that your oncologist will refer you to such a group or put you in touch with the hospital’s social worker, who can also refer you to a group that would be appropriate.
If the local medical facility does not have such a group, it’s a good idea to call the closest branch of the American Cancer Society or to check out their online site, which lists a variety of resources including in-person groups in various areas across the country.
The age of technology has also brought a new style of support group to those who aren’t close to or can’t make it to a traditional meeting. Online support groups have grown in leaps and bounds throughout the last decade and many truly good ones are available to offer support, including groups for parents who have kids suffering from cancer. For example, the Association of Online Cancer Resources offers topical real-time support for those touched by the disease. Many others are available as well. Simply do a search for online cancer support groups to find one that suits your needs.
Camps for Children with Cancer
Any child who has been diagnosed with cancer should have the opportunity to interact with other children who are also fighting the disease. It’s important for kids to be with others who understand exactly what they are going through. So-called “Cancer Camps” are the ideal place for this interaction to occur.
Many organizations nationwide have established such camps, most of which take place during the summer months when schools are on vacation. Some last just a few days; others continue for a week or even a month or more. The faculty and staff at these camps are trained to care for and understand the special needs of these children. In fact, the counselors and other staff members are often childhood (or adult) cancer survivors themselves. This makes them especially suited for the job.
In addition, many of these camps are available free of charge so that parents who are already dealing with the expenses associated with cancer care can send their child to these facilities without worrying about excessive costs often associated with a “normal” camp experience.
Probably the most well known cancer camp for children is The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, one of the first of its kind, founded by actor Paul Newman in 1988. Located in Ashford, Connecticut, it’s both a summer camp and year-round resource center for families dealing with childhood cancer and it serves 15,000 children annually, all at no charge.
Cooper SP, et. al. "Epidemiologic Aspects of Childhood Mesothelioma." Pathology and Immunopathology Research Vol. 8:276-286 (1989)
Fraire AE, et. al. "Mesothelioma of Childhood." Cancer, Volume 62 Issue 4, Pages 838-847 (June 2006)
Grundy, Gordon W., et. al. "Malignant Mesothelioma in Childhood. Report of 13 Cases." Cancer, Volume 30 Issue 5, Pages 1216-1218 (June 2006)
Moran CA, Albores-Saavedra J, Suster S. - Primary peritoneal mesotheliomas in children: a clinicopathological and immunohistochemical study of eight cases. Histopathology. 2008; 52:824-830
Hole in the Wall Gang
American Cancer Society
Association of Online Cancer Resources