September Is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September 03, 2019
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to consider how a cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen is difficult for anyone, particularly a child or teenager. It’s a heart-wrenching time for family and friends, as well as the young person whose life of school, friends, and activities has been replaced with doctor’s visits, treatments, and dealing with side effects.
Childhood, or pediatric, cancer, is defined as a cancer occurring in someone less than 20 years of age. Like those cancers found in adults, some types are fast-moving and difficult to treat while others have a much higher treatment success rate. And often because of the patients’ youth, treatment modalities often cannot be as aggressive, or do not have the same outcomes as those for adults.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), childhood cancer is the No. 2 cause of death among children ages 1 to 14 in the United States. In 2018, an estimated 10,590 children in this age group received a cancer diagnosis — and 1,180 died from it. Some other details to round out the picture:
- Leukemia accounts for 29 percent of all childhood cancers
- Brain and nervous system tumors account for 26 percent of all childhood cancers
- The five-year relative survival rates rose from 58 percent of diagnoses between 1975-1977 to 83 percent of those diagnosed between 2007 and 2013.
Pediatric treatments have adult consequences
Another troubling aspect of pediatric cancer is that, for survivors, there often are lingering after-effects. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or any combination can create life-altering conditions, or health problems, for the rest of the patient’s life or a significant portion of it. According to The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, an NCI-funded research project, 62.3 percent of survivors had a chronic condition and 27.5 percent had a life-threatening condition. And at 30 years from the time of diagnosis, 73.4 percent of survivors had a chronic health condition, and the cumulative incidence of severe, disabling, or life-threatening conditions or death due to a chronic condition was 42.4 percent.
That points to a need for more robust care of pediatric cancer survivors, as well as the development of survivorship programs so that they can maintain any post-cancer conditions that develop, and so that those do not worsen unnecessarily. One method that’s received a lot of attention is the Passport for Care, developed by the Children’s Oncology Group and the Texas Children’s Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine. The Passport for Care creates an individual set of follow-up care guidelines based on the patient’s treatment summary and is available to healthcare providers and patients via an online interface. The hope is that by making that information portable, the patient can take it with them to different healthcare providers as they age and relocate, allowing their current treatment team to see the full range of diagnosis and treatment their pediatric cancer received.
A key component in positive outcomes, both for the patient as a child and then in their adult life, is early diagnosis and treatment. That’s where healthcare providers and systems can be most effective, because they have ample opportunities to get the word out and recommend some basics for awareness and education around the issue:
- Family history
- Unusual lumps or swelling
- Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
- Easy bruising
- Ongoing pain in one area of the body
- Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t recede
- Frequent headaches and/or vomiting
- Sudden eye or vision changes
- Unexplained weight loss
These and other symptoms can be indicators of cancer, and just as in adults, the earlier it’s caught the better. Through marketing tools, such as those provided by the American Childhood Cancer Association, providers can do much to raise awareness and vigilance among parents and community members. HealthStream also offers coursework on childhood and less common cancers, which is designed for pediatric nurses, nurse practitioners, advance practice nurse, clinical nurse specialists, and registered nurses to learn or about theses cancers, as well as how they can provide the most efficient and targeted care for the patients and their families.