As parents and grandparents it is natural to gaze at our children and grandchildren and try to imagine what they will face in the years ahead. We know we can’t shield them from the hard lessons in life, but when we try to imagine their future, it is the positive experiences we see in our mind’s eye. Their first day of school, their first sleep-over with friends, maybe even the day they meet that special someone and get married.
One thing we never imagine is the thought of one of our children dealing with the nightmare of childhood cancer.
Each year 12,500 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer. One of every four elementary schools across the United States has one student with cancer. Today as many as forty-six children will be diagnosed with cancer.
Childhood cancer involves a wide range of cancers affecting twelve different categories. Cancer affects children differently than it does adults. Children often have advanced stages of cancer when first diagnosed with eighty percent showing the disease spread to other sites.
While most adult cancers are known to be caused by certain lifestyle choices, most childhood cancers have no known cause and cannot be prevented. As with any cancer, early detection and treatment greatly increases the survival rate. Attempts to detect childhood cancer have failed because there are often no tell-tale signs or symptoms of a problem until cancer have already spread throughout the body.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are twelve major categories of childhood cancer.
Leukemias (blood cell cancers) are the most common and account for one-third of all new childhood cancer cases.
Other childhood cancers include:
Germ cell tumors
Liver cancers in children
Thyroid cancer in children
Childhood Cancer Survival Rates
Increased technology to detect, diagnose and treat childhood cancers has led to a significant increase in survival rates. Survival rates have shown an increase from 58.1 percent in 1975-77 to 79.6 percent in 1996-2003.
Some cancers such as those involving brain tumors still lag behind in survival rates, however continued advances in diagnosis and treatment are ongoing.
Risk Factors for Childhood Cancer
Though there are no known causes linked to most childhood cancers, there have been numerous studies done suggesting certain conditions may place a child at higher risk than others.
Children being treated with chemotherapy or radiation for one cancer may be at higher risk for developing leukemia.
Children with AIDS have an increased risk for certain types of cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma.
Some genetic conditions, such as neurofibromatosis, have been linked to an increased risk for childhood cancer. Children with Down syndrome also have an increased risk of leukemia.
Environmental factors such as exposure to pesticides, radon, second-hand smoke, ultra sounds or the magnetic field from high voltage power lines have all been suspect of increasing cancer risk in children however there is little scientific evidence to support these concerns at this time.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is funding numerous studies and ongoing research to explore the cause of and best treatments for childhood cancers.
Additional information for dealing with a diagnosis of cancer can be found in the following articles:
Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment and Life Expectations
Cancer Diagnostic Tests-Find Out What You Are Fighting
Cancer Treatment Options: Traditional and Complementary
Beyond Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment There is lifeExpectations!
Childhood Cancers Fact Sheet,(n.d.) National Cancer Institute – online, Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood
Childhood Cancer Facts. (n.d.) Kristina’s Rainbows of Hope, online-Retrieved from http://www.kristinasrainbowsofhope.org/facts.html