Here are the startling facts: Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the United States. Cancer kills more child than Cystic Fibrosis, AIDS, Asthma, and Muscular Dystrophy combined.
Each year, approximately 250,000 new cases of cancer affect children under the age of 20 worldwide. If you consider that the average elementary school in the United States has 350 students, this means that approximately two elementary schools of children are diagnosed each year.
Nearly 250 children die of cancer each day. This is over 91,000 children each year. Additionally, 2/3 of the survivors of childhood cancer will have long lasting chronic health conditions from their treatment and an overall shorter life span.
This is truly and epidemic.
What causes childhood cancer?
Childhood cancer spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class, or geographic region. In the United States, the incidence of cancer among adolescents and young adults is increasing at a greater rate than any other age group, except those over 65 years old.
Little is really known about what causes each of the various types of childhood cancer. Research so far as not been able to tell us why certain children develop cancer and others don’t.
What is known is that chromosome disorders account for most types of leukemia. High levels of exposure to radiation, such as the use of X-rays during pregnancy have been linked with one or more childhood cancers. Children with Down Syndrome are known to be at higher risk of developing leukemia.
Other possible risk factors for childhood cancer may include parents’ diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption before the child was conceived, as well as infectious diseases, such as Epstein-Barr virus in Hodgkin disease. However, while environmental causes have long been suspected, it has been difficult for researchers to prove these theories with valid statistics.
Are there early warning signs for childhood cancer?
There are no obvious or simple signs to watch for in your child or teenager. Symptoms of childhood cancer depend on the type of cancer the child has. For example, they may have frequent bruising (leukemia), pain in the arms or legs (bone cancer), a swollen abdomen (neuroblastoma), dizziness or seizures (brain tumor), or many other groups of symptoms which make it difficult for anyone but a pediatric oncologist to make the diagnosis.
How does cancer spread in the body?
Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
How long is childhood cancer treatment?
Cancer treatment varies with the type of cancer, the age and sometimes the gender of the patient.
How can childhood cancer be prevented?
Adults are told to avoid smoking, radiation, sunburn, eating fatty foods, etc., in order to prevent some forms of cancer. With children, prevention is less an issue, because sometimes the child develops cancer in the first few months or years of life. Also, very little is currently known about what causes childhood cancer. The major causes seem to be chromosomal and genetic abnormalities. Research so far has statistically proved very few instances of possible environmental causes for childhood cancer, but the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) continues to conduct epidemiology, cytogenetic, and microbiology studies in their quest for answers.
What is “Teen Gap”?
There is a “gap” in the medical care teenagers with cancer are receiving, because sometimes adolescents with cancer are cared for by physicians who usually treat adults with cancer. Teens usually have a better chance of survival if they were treated by specialists in childhood cancer. Teenagers like to think of themselves as adults, not children, but the one time they need to be treated like children is when they have cancer and are choosing a physician to treat them.
My friend’s child has cancer: what can I do to help?
Be a good listener; offer specific forms of help such as babysitting, cooking, or housecleaning. Keep checking back and offering your support to show the family they are not forgotten, because cancer treatments go on for many months or years.
Will I Get Well?
Children often know about family members or friends who died of cancer. As a result, many children are afraid to ask if they will get well because they fear that the answer will be “no.” Thus, you might tell your child that cancer is a serious disease, but that treatment – such as medicine, radiation, or an operation – has helped get rid of cancer in other children, and the doctors and nurses are trying their best to cure your child’s cancer, too. Knowing that caring people – such as family, doctors, nurses, counselors, and others – surround your child and your family may also help him or her feel more secure.
What Will Happen to Me?
When your child is first diagnosed with cancer, many new and scary things will happen. While at the doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, your child may see or play with other children with cancer who may not be feeling well, have lost their hair, or have had limbs removed because of cancer. Your child may wonder, “Will these things happen to me?” Yet, your child may be too afraid to ask questions. It is important to try to get your child to talk about these concerns. Explain ahead of time about the cancer, treatment, and possible side effects. Discuss what the doctor will do to help if side effects occur. You can also explain that there are many different types of cancer and that even when two children have the same cancer, what happens to one child will not always happen to the other.
Children should be told about any changes in their treatment schedule or in the type of treatment they receive. This information helps them prepare for visits to the doctor or hospital. You may want to help your child keep a calendar that shows the days for doctor visits, treatments, or tests. Do not tell younger children about upcoming treatments far ahead of time if it makes them nervous.
Why Do I Have to Take Medicine When I Feel Okay?
With cancer, your child may feel fine much of the time but need to take medicine often. Children do not understand why they have to take medicine when they feel well. You may want to remind your child of the reason for taking the medicine in the first place. For example, a child could be told: “Although you are feeling well, the bad cells are hiding. You must take the medicine for a while longer to find the bad cells and stop them from coming back.”
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