What it means when a Cancer Patient is “In Remission”


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There Is No Cure For Cancer!!

No matter how we cut it and no matter how we wish it were so, There IS no cure for Cancer! Just as an alcoholic is never cured, an individual that has had cancer is also never cured ~ they just go into remission.

“Remission” is probably one of the most beautiful words you could hear when your child has been fighting cancer. It may, however not be the end of the line as far as caring may go.

What is Remission?

According to the dictionary, “Remission is abatement in intensity or degree (as in the manifestations of a disease.”)

In plain English, remission is a period of time in which the cancer is “under control.” There are 2 types of Remission:

  • Partial Remission: This means that the cancer is responding well to the various treatments and is being held at bay
  • Complete Remission: This means that the doctors are no longer able to detect the cancer via tests

The length of time an individual could remain in remission depends on individual circumstances. The longer an individual remains in remission, the less likely they are to relapse and for the cancer to return.

Unfortunately, being in remission from cancer is not the be all and end all of problems for many cancer patients and their families.

Cancer is a disease that takes its toll not only on the patient, but on the whole family. Financial stresses are tops, as the treatment is very expensive. Couple this with the fact that when a child has cancer, one of the parents, usually the mother, needs to be with the child 24/7, which means that she cannot work!

Possible Late-Effects of Radiation and Chemotherapy Treatment

Another HUGE problem is the possible side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatment for a child cancer patient. These are not only the side-effects during treatment, but those that sometimes come AFTER treatment, called “Late Effects.”

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer, and it does a very good job of killing the cancer cells, but sometimes this happens at a heavy price.

Chemo kills off the cancer cells, but can also damage normal healthy cells in organs throughout the body. This is very prevalent in childhood cancer because the child’s body is still growing; therefore the normal cells are growing fast, too.

These side-effects depend largely on the type and dose of chemo drugs utilised, as well as how often and for how long they are given. Side effects are likely to be more severe with high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant than for low-dose chemotherapy for a single malignant tumour, for instance.

Short-term side effects of chemo such as low blood cell counts, nausea, diarrhoea, or hair-loss usually go away over time after treatment is over. Late effects, on the other hand, may happen many years later. A child’s whole body is growing. This means that many different kinds of healthy, normal cells are dividing faster than they would be in an adult. Some types of chemo drugs can damage these cells and keep them from growing and developing the way they should.

Late effects of chemo treatment can include:

  • Emotional difficulties – Anxiety, depression, and fear of recurrence, may occur.
  • Secondary Cancers – Certain cancers and certain drugs used in treating them may result in a different type of cancer appearing later
  • Growth, development, and hormone problems – Certain drugs used to combat cancer may result in growth-hormone deficiency
  • Eyesight – Cancer treatment can affect vision in a number of ways. In some cases it may lead to blindness
  • Hearing – Some chemo drugs can lead to hearing loss.
  • Epilepsy – Seizures caused by anything that disrupts the normal pattern of neuron activity, including illness, brain damage or abnormal brain development. Chemotherapy itself does not cause seizures but may cause conditions that put a person at increased risk of seizure, such as dehydration from uncontrolled nausea and vomiting.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation treatment utilises high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. Radiation is often used alongside other treatments; before or after surgery, or together with chemo. In some cases, radiation may be the main treatment.

Radiation therapy can also affect normal healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. The risk of late effects from radiation in child patients depends on the frequency and dose; the age of the child; genetic make-up of the patient.

Late effects of radiation treatment can include:

  • Fatigue – Inability to get over feeling tired, regardless of how much sleep they get.
  • Cancer Recurrence or Secondary Cancers – Cancer may recur or spread (metastasize). Secondary cancers, some of which may be a result of treatments used for their original cancer, may also occur.
  • Dental Problems – Chemotherapy may affect tooth enamel and increase the risk of long-term dental problems.
  • Diabetes: Some patients may become high-risk for diabetes due to the Steroid drugs used to treat certain cancers
  • Hypothyroidism – Survivors of cancer to the head,  neck and those with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma often suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition in which there is too little thyroid hormone.
  • Learning & Memory Problems – Many cancer patients have problems with learning and memory during and immediately after treatment.

Other late effects of cancer treatments include Incontinence, Endocrine Changes, infertility, Lymphedema, Neuropathy, Organ Damage, Osteoporosis, Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve problems, Digestion problems,

So remember, the next time that you think all is OK with someone because their child is “in remission” it may not be as cut and dried as you think. They may have conquered the cancer, but may still be dealing with side-effects such as described above as well as trying to put their lives back together financially and emotionally.

Before abandoning support for the family where the child is “in remission,” make sure that you know the whole story. Remember that mother that had to give up her job to look after her child with cancer? She may still not be able to go back to work if the child has severe late effects of cancer that necessitate her staying home to care for her child.

 

Sources:

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

American Society of Clinical Oncology

 

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About LFCT

This is a blog about CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 14 June, 2014, in Articles, Blog and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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