Pediatricians are often the health care providers who first detect the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. Although pediatric malignancies are rare diseases, early diagnosis is an important factor leading to high cure rates of many types of cancers including retinoblastoma, Wilms' tumor, hepatoblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, thyroid carcinoma, and other solid tumors. A number of familial cancer syndromes present with childhood cancers that can be recognized or diagnosed by pediatricians. The genetic origins of several syndromes have been elucidated. Genetic testing is not yet available for all of these inherited cancers. A frequently updated list of genetic tests is available at www.genetests.org. The ordering and interpreting of genetic tests, however, is often best done by trained genetic counselors. The pediatrician will play a vital on-going role in following the at-risk child. In many of syndromes discussed, the cost effectiveness of the tests as well as that of any potential intervention needs further study. The role of the subtle genetic polymorphisms in pediatric tumorigenesis, many more of which will undoubtedly be described in the coming years, has not yet been translated into defined needs for interventions. Perhaps in the future it will be possible to understand the additive effect of multiple genetic polymorphisms and to determine genetic profiles of high cancer risk. Until suitable interventions are established, however, the study of genetic variability and cancer will await practical significance. Undoubtedly other major important cancer genes are yet to be discovered and characterized. An additional challenge is the counseling and management of children and adults who have a strong family history of cancer yet who do not have a recognizable syndrome. The role of the primary pediatrician is to recognize the major cancer genetic syndromes, to make appropriate referrals for genetic counseling and testing when indicated, and to ensure that adequate screening tests are being done.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health