September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

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Childhood cancer is almost a misnomer, because those who survive the disease actually have it “for life.” The lifelong impact of having cancer as a child is just one of the messages that should be shared during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and every month of the year.

We need more awareness about Childhood Cancer

Cancer is diagnosed in approximately 12,400 children between birth and age 19 years in the United States each year. The National Cancer Institute’s SEER Program (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) collects data on childhood cancer from 10 states representative of the entire nation and then extrapolates it to portray national childhood cancer data.

Cancers that are common among adults (e.g., lung, breast, prostate, colon) are rare in children and adolescents, as demonstrated by the data from the NCI. Among the 12 major types of childhood cancers, leukemias and cancers of the brain and central nervous system represent more than 50 percent of new cases. Leukemias account for about one-third of cancers in children, with the most common type of leukemia in children being acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Childhood cancer is the most common cause of death by disease for young people in the United States.

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Since 1970, the overall survival rate for childhood cancer has improved dramatically, with a close to 80 percent five-year survival today. Currently there are an estimated 270,000 survivors of childhood cancer living in the United States.

Just because a child survives cancer, however, does not mean that he or she is home free. Cancer in children tends to be more aggressive than that seen in adults, and thus treatment is aggressive as well. The impact of vigorous treatment administered when children are growing and their brains and other organs and systems are developing can be devastating and long-lasting.

Two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors, for example, have at least one chronic health challenge, and 25 percent experience a late-effect from cancer treatment that is considered to be severe or life-threatening, including heart or lung damage, infertility, cognitive impairment, growth deficits, hearing loss, second cancers, and more. Some research indicates that survivors of childhood cancer also have lower educational outcomes. Therefore it is critical that childhood cancer survivors be monitored regularly regarding their physical and psychosocial health throughout their lives.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but awareness of this issue and its consequences is a year-round concern, especially for the families of children who have cancer, and cancer survivors. More information about childhood cancer is provided by the American Childhood Cancer Organization and the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES:
American Childhood Cancer Organization
National Cancer Institute

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