Finding Hope for Children Battling Cancer
In the United States alone, cancer impacts the lives of thousands of children every year. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, about 11,630 children in the United States under the age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2013. The statistics are met with both hopeful outcomes and a dire need for more funding and research.
Cancer is a disease caused by cellular reproduction gone haywire. The body begins to create cells that attack healthy cells. These cells are referred to as “tumors."
There is no single cause for those inflicted with the disease; however, a number of genetic mutations within a cell can lead to that cell becoming cancerous. In some cases, a child may be born with a genetic predisposition as a result of a DNA mutation.
The good news is that the survival rate of children diagnosed with cancer has greatly improved over the past 40 years. Significant treatment advances have increased the survival rate from 58.1 percent in 1975 to 79.6 percent in 2003, according to the National Cancer Institute.
On the other hand, surviving childhood cancer often results in other long term health issues. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital recently conducted a study of over 1,700 childhood cancer survivors to find that 98 percent of the participants had at least one chronic disease, such as new cancers, heart disease or abnormal lung function by age 45. Childhood cancer survivors should have regular checkups throughout their lives to identify and address any additional health problems early on.
“Detecting cancer in a child is often difficult since symptoms may seem like a common illness or injury,” says Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Teri Kohlrusch at Amery Regional Medical Center, “but warning signs of loss of energy, easy bruising, bone or muscle pain, persistent fever or illness, frequent headaches and vomiting, limping and sudden changes in vision should be brought to the attention of your child’s health care provider.”
The most common types of childhood cancer include: leukemia, brain and other nervous system tumors, neuroblastoma, wilms tumor, lymphoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, retinoblastoma and bone cancer. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, treatment options may include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.
The economic burden of childhood cancer can be overwhelming for parents. “In a recent survey conducted by the National Children’s Cancer Society, over 89 percent of families reported income loss due to their child’s diagnosis,” says Linda Kirkman, practice leader of Strategic Resources for Quorum Health Resources (QHR).
“The average out-of-pocket cost for a family with a child battling cancer is over $9,700.” Parents are further challenged with maintaining their household, caring for other children, making medical decisions and ensuring financial stability all while trying to stay beside their child through this difficult time.
Parents should learn and communicate to the family physician or pediatrician any genetic history of childhood cancers in their families, so the child can be monitored for early diagnosis of any potential genetic cancer risks. In addition, they can take an active role to reduce their children’s risk of cancer, including:
- Assuring children eat plenty of fruits and green vegetables
- Not allowing smoking in the home and around the children
- Breast feeding infants at least 9 months
- Reducing salt, sugar and processed foods in children’s diets
- Requiring children to be physically active every day
- Minimizing children’s use of cell phones
- Limiting use of in-home herbicides or pesticides”
September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and dozens of organizations sponsor events to fund research that will hopefully cure the disease. You can visit Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation committed to finding a cure for childhood cancers. The site lists 30 ways you can raise awareness and funds throughout the month of September.
For more information about Childhood Cancer Awareness, see the CureSearch for Children’s Cancer website at www.curesearch.org