September is known as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. While cancer is a particularly vicious disease you wouldn’t wish on anyone, it is even harder to swallow when the disease afflicts children, even more so that the kinds of cancer that afflict cancer are oftentimes in the “rare” spectrum for adults.
Children’s Cancer Research Fund estimates that in a month, “25,000 families around the world will get the horrible news that their child or teen has cancer” and “6,667 families will experience the loss of a child.”
Over all, the American Cancer Society, Inc. points out that childhood cancers comprise less than 1% of all diagnosed cancer cases annually. The organization estimates that about 10,380 children in the country under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with certain forms of the disease. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children, and the lives of at least 1,250 children will be claimed by the disease in a year.
Meanwhile, the American Childhood Cancer Organization estimates even direr odds for children. The organization says that at least “15,780 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed with cancer every year; approximately ¼ of them will not survive the disease.”
All organizations are in agreement about one thing, however: the incidence of childhood cancer has steadily been growing over the past few decades.
The Role of Modernity
Researchers of Children with Cancer UK recently completed a study that showed there are 1,300 more incidences of childhood cancers today in comparison with the rates in 1998. This increase in more pronounced with teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24, wherein cancer rates have gone from 10 cases in 100,000 to almost 16 cases in every 100,000.
According to The Telegraph, which reported on the study, although researchers concede that the increased numbers can be attributed to better screening methods, it cannot be denied that majority of the new cases are aggravated by environmental factors. In fact, the organization’s scientific adviser, Dr. Denis Henshaw, said air pollution accounts for roughly 40% of the increase.
Aside from air pollution, it turns out that modern lifestyle is also to blame. According to the same article, the study cites “obesity, pesticides, and solvents inhaled during pregnancy, circadian rhythm disruption through too much bright light at night, radiation from x-rays and CT scans, smoking during and after pregnancy, magnetic fields from power lines, gadgets in homes, and potentially, radiation from mobile phones.” Yet these are things that most people have no control over. For instance, electric fields of power lines are difficult to avoid, particularly if you are living in a house with electricity.
Despite these grim pronouncements, the experts still say that there are a number of ways through which adults can reduce the risk of cancer, including inculcating healthy eating habits to the children and being active. Aside from these things, pregnant women should avoid processed meat and caffeine, and try to steer off nightshift and white or blue lights that can disrupt the body’s internal clock.
Finally, the organization adds that there are is a significant increase in the incidence of childhood cancers, around 80% of children diagnosed with the disease now survive for at least five years. However, the aggressive treatments may have a major impact to their health as adults should they survive the disease.
The Common Cancers in Children
In a bid to increase awareness on childhood cancers, here are some of the more common kinds of cancers that afflict our youth:
Leukemia – Accounting for 30% of all cancers in American children, leukemia is the cancer of the bone marrow and blood. There are several kinds of leukemia, and these cancers can cause severe bone and joint pain, weakness, bleeding and bruising, and fatigue, among others. This type of cancer can also progress rapidly, so it is imperative that treatment such as chemotherapy is given to the patients as soon as they are diagnosed.
Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors – Central nervous system and brain tumors are also considered as the second most common form of cancer in children, which accounts for 26% of childhood cancer diagnoses in the country. These kinds of cancer can cause headaches, blurred or double vision, seizures, and affect motor functions, among others. It typically starts at the brain stem and spreads to other parts of the central nervous system.
Neuroblastoma – A rare form of cancer, this develops at the embryotic stage and amounts for 6% of childhood cancers. It develops in infants and children, with patients rarely over the age of 10. In rare cases, neuroblastoma tumors can even be detected while the baby is in the womb. There are about 700 new cases of the disease annually. A swollen belly is often the telltale sign that the child has neuroblastoma, particularly when it causes bone pain and fever. This is the leading cancer among infants or children under the age of 1.
Nephroblastoma – Nephroblastoma, also called Wilms Tumor, starts in the kidneys and is often found in children between the ages of 3 and 4. It contributes to 5% of all childhood cancer cases. Children with nephroblastoma can have swelling in the abdomen and poor appetite.
In many cases, cancers in children are detected when they have spread to other parts of the body. For this reason, it is highly encouraged that children be treated immediately upon diagnoses to prevent the cancer from spreading.
While the figures stipulated above can be disturbing particularly if you are a parent, it is worth reiterating that childhood cancers amounts to only 1% of all cancer diagnoses in the country. There are also certain precautions you can take, particularly if you are at risk of giving a cancer gene to your offspring. What’s more, medical advancements continue to happen each day, and more effective treatment options are now being available.
Nevertheless, it is still important to reiterate the importance of staying healthy. Keep your children on their toes by encouraging regular exercise, exposing them to the nursery to build their immune system, and inculcating a healthy diet from the onset. This way, you would be giving them the tools they need to remain healthy in the future.