September is recognised as the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness against childhood cancer, the leading cause of death among children. ZenOnco.io joins the cancer organisations all around the world in promoting awareness against the disease and in encouraging funds for research and safer treatments.
Globally, there are more than 700 children diagnosed with cancer each day. In the US, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer each day, while five children die of it every day. Awareness is the key ingredient in the fight against any disease, as only through awareness, does the public come to know about it, its symptoms, and the need for extensive research to improve the treatment procedures and facilities. The records are a testament to this fact, as ever since research in this field was promoted, the five-year survival rates of those with childhood cancer have risen from 61% in 1975 to 84% in 2019. But these numbers should not provide a false sense of security as there is still much more to be done in this field. There are several subtypes of childhood cancer which don’t have a successful treatment procedure yet. While the most common childhood cancer, lymphoblastic leukaemia, has a five-year survival rate of 90%, the same of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a type of childhood brain tumour, is less than 5 %. Thus, there is much more to go before childhood cancer can be reduced to the form of an easily treatable disease.
Thus, it is to bring these realities of childhood cancer to public awareness and to emphasise the importance of life-saving research, that September is recognised as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Childhood Cancer Awareness
Childhood cancer is not a single type of cancer, but a collection of several cancers that are commonly seen in children below the age of 20. The most common malignancies are blood cancers, with leukaemia accounting for about 30% and lymphomas accounting for around 8% of all paediatric cancers. The next most common cancer is the tumours in the brain and central nervous systems, which account for around 26 %. Other solid tumours include neuroblastoma, bone tumour, Wilms tumour and retinoblastoma.
Childhood Cancer Symptoms
Childhood cancer symptoms are hard to recognise, as they are often similar to those of usual childhood illnesses such as common flu or infections. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that parents should consult a doctor is any of the symptoms persist for longer than it should for a common cold, or if they get worse. Some of the common symptoms of childhood cancer can include:
- Unusual lump or swelling
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Frequent headaches
- Pale skin or excessive skin rashes
- Unexplained fever and fatigue
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
These symptoms also differ according to the type of cancer. It is imperative that parents consult a paediatrician who has expertise in recognising the symptoms that comes under the normal range of symptoms for diseases such as common cold, and those that does not.
Childhood Cancer Causes
Unlike in adults, where lifestyle habits and environmental risk factors are strongly linked to the advent of cancer, cancer in children are often due to DNA mutations and genetic disorders. Cancer in adults is usually due to years of exposure to factors such as smoking, alcohol, obesity, unhealthy diets, insufficient exercise and unhealthy environments. But these aren’t linked to childhood cancers, and thus there are no lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent cancer.
Most leukaemia are not linked to any genetic causes; having a parent who develops leukaemia as an adult doesn’t increase the child’s risk to the disease. But there are some genetic factors that increase the risk, such as a weak immune system. Some DNA mutation occurs even before the birth of the child, showing that babies can be born with cancer. Failed bone marrow transplantation and being treated for another cancer also increases the risk of leukaemia.
Need for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Cancer is predominantly a disease that affects older people. The median age of cancer diagnosis is 66 years with one-fourth of new cancer cases diagnosed in people between the age of 65 to 74. Due to this, the majority are unaware of the enormity of childhood cancer, as it often gets overlooked. In the US, only 4% of the total funding for cancer research is devoted to paediatric cancer, which is a small percentage considering the fact that every child cured of cancer has years of productive life ahead of them.
Another fact is the need for research to bring down the side effects of the treatment. Research shows that more than 95% of childhood cancer survivors have treatment-related health issues, of which 32% have severe, disabling or life-threatening side effects. This is a grave number that needs to be reduced in the coming years.
Gold ribbon: is used to spread awareness about childhood cancer. The colour symbolises the resiliency of the young cancer warriors. Along with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, February 15th is recognised as the Childhood Cancer Day to bring more awareness to the disease. All over the world, people have started to take notice of childhood cancer and have begun to Go Gold during September. It is high time that we join these movements to increase awareness for the need for more research and safer treatments and cures.