Raising awareness of childhood cancer

By Jamie Dargart, MD, MS

       Although pediatric cancer is relatively rare, it is the leading cause of disease-related death in children and adolescents in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, 43 children are diagnosed with childhood cancer every day. However, cancer death rates in this age group have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.
        The most common types of cancer among children are acute leukemias, brain tumors and lymphomas. Childhood cancers are very different than those that are seen in adults. While there are typically risk factors that can be altered to help prevent the risk of cancer in adults, most cases of childhood cancer are sporadic or related to inherited genetic mutations or disorders. It is important to know that if a child is diagnosed with cancer, there is typically nothing that could have been done to avoid the diagnosis.
        However, healthy habits started in childhood can help decrease the risk of cancer in adulthood, including a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, plenty of physical activity, consistent sunscreen use and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke.
        Over the past 60 years, there has been significant improvement in childhood cancer outcomes due to children and parents choosing to participate in clinical research. Many families will choose to participate in trials to help prevent future children from having to go through the same situations. Because of this research, most children diagnosed with cancer will be cured.
        Every September, health care institutions, patients, families, community members and childhood cancer organizations around the world join together to increase awareness and raise funds for research, prevention, treatments and cures. As a result, more than 80% of U.S. childhood cancer patients become long-term survivors.
        Jamie Dargart, MD, MS, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at ProMedica Russel J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital.


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