Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
You’ve heard of breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer, but you probably haven’t heard of Rhabdomyosarcoma or retinoblastoma. These are a few of the dozen or so cancers that affect kids. There are lots of differences between kids’ cancers and adult ones. We are sharing them as a part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
- Adult cancers are fairly common, but childhood cancer is rare. About 10,500 kids under 15 will be diagnosed this year. About 1,000 die of childhood cancer each year. By comparison, more than 600,000 adults are expected to die of cancer during the same time.
- Childhood cancers are not preventable in the same way that many adult cancers are. Unlike some adult cancers, they are not linked to smoking or being out of shape. Rarely, childhood cancers relate to genetic factors. Most often, we don’t know why one kid gets cancer while another doesn’t.
- Keeping your child’s annual well-child visits is one way you can help catch childhood cancer early. During these visits, pediatricians use their exam and questions to check for abnormalities related to many conditions, including cancer. These can include questions about recent changes in weight, neurological symptoms, or physical abnormalities found during the exam.
- You should also contact your pediatrician any time you note unusual symptoms in your child. Symptoms of childhood cancer may include unexpected weight loss, sudden changes in vision, constant headaches or pain in a part of their body, fevers that don’t go away, vomiting, limping, easy bleeding or bruising, lack of energy, paleness, and unexplained lumps or swelling. Some of these symptoms can be explained by non-cancerous causes, but it is important to have you child checked by their doctor to make sure.
- Pediatricians help determine if the symptom requires extra testing, like lab or imaging studies or a biopsy (where the doctor takes a small sample of tissue to test at a lab).
- When a child is diagnosed with cancer, they are treated at pediatric oncology centers, usually in big cities or at academic medical centers. Doctors there use surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to treat cancer.
- Thanks to rigorous scientific research, survival rates have increased by nearly 30 percent since the 1970s. Survival rates vary based on the type of cancer and what stage it is. Like adult cancer, stages go from I to IV. The higher the stage, the more the cancer has spread throughout the body and the more difficult it is to treat.
- Kids who have had cancer often have long-term health effects from the treatments they received. They need careful follow-up throughout their lives.
- Having a child with cancer is a traumatic experience. There is lots of support for kids and families going through cancer treatment, including counseling, nutritional support, and more.
Healthy kids and families can support families going through cancer by donating to or volunteering with childhood cancer organizations. As a parent of a healthy child, your most important job is to take actions to help protect your child from the common adult cancers. Sunscreen your child, get them an HPV vaccine as recommended, encourage testicular self-exam, protect them from second-hand smoke, and encourage healthy eating and exercise.
Ebrahim Ghazali, MD, is a pediatrician at SVMC Pediatrics, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.