Every year in the United States, there are nearly 13,500 children up to the age of 19 that are diagnosed with childhood cancer. This breaks down to one in 333 girls and one in 300 boys receiving a cancer diagnosis before the age of 20. These statistics show that pediatric cancer is the most common cause of death for children and adolescents by disease.
There are different types of children’s cancers that exist. Of children up to the age of 14 that are diagnosed with cancer:
While survival rates of these cancers have improved over the past 30 years, it is simply due to improved treatment efficacy. Children undergo a great deal of side effects, such as secondary cancers, infertility, lung damage, heart issues, impaired cognitive abilities, growth and development deficiencies, and much more.
Unfortunately, survival has not been consistent. While the survival rates of some childhood cancers have improved, the 5-year survival rates of many have remained poor. For instance, the 5-year survival rate for soft tissue cancers was 61% in 1977 and only improved to 72% by 2001. While 72% is an improvement, the strides made are not as significant as those made with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which jumped from a 43% survival rate in 1977 to 87% in 2001. The 2001 5-year survival rates have been found to not be much different than those in 2012.
While the dollar amounts may seem high, a lot of money is needed to make childhood cancer research truly effective. Unfortunately, research facilities do not receive the money they need to make great strides in childhood cancer research. Every year, Congress approves a specific amount of money that the National Institute of Health receives and then distributes for research initiatives. In 2009, cancer research facilities received approximately $5.6 billion. Only around $180 million of that was allocated for childhood cancer research. Other times, childhood cancer has been allocated as little as $30 million for a year of research. This does not pay for much more than the salaries of those doing the research with limited resources.
Childhood Cancer FAQ
1. What is childhood cancer?
Although considered to be rare, childhood cancer is proving to be anything but. Approximately 1 in 600 children under 15 years of age are diagnosed with some kind of cancer and very little is known about the causes.
2. What are the common types of childhood cancer?
There are 12 major types. Brain cancers, central nervous system cancers, and leukemia account for approximately half of the newly diagnosed cases. One –third of cases are leukemias with the most common being lymphoblastic leukemia. The most common brain tumors are medulloblastomas, giliomas, neuroblastomas, sarcomas (osteosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma), and wilms tumors.
3. How many children are diagnosed each year in the U.S.?
In 2007, over 10,000 children under 15 years of age were diagnosed with cancer and around 1,545 of them died. This makes cancer the number one cause of death by disease of children up to 14 years old.
4. How have incidence and survival rates changed throughout the years?
Over the past two decades, there has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with all forms of pediatric cancers. Death rates have declined and 5-year survival rates have improved for most cancers. Due to the lack of research funding, much of the improvement is due to “fine tuning” the way treatments are administered with few new treatments being introduced.
5. What causes childhood cancer?
The causes are not really known. The only time the cause is truly known is when there may be a chromosomal condition, such as Down syndrome. Other times, a genetic abnormality may be uncovered or the child was exposed to ionizing radiation. Nonetheless, these factors only explain a small percentage of cases. It has been suspected that there are environmental causes, but scientists have had difficulty pinning this down, partially due to cancer in children being considered rare compared to adult cancers. It is also difficult to identify what a child has been exposed to since conception.
What are the Symptoms of Childhood Cancer?
The signs of childhood cancer are as follows:
Continued and unexplained weight loss
Headaches, typically in the mornings with vomiting
Increased swelling, continuous pain in bones, back, joints, and/or legs
Lump or mass, especially in the armpits, neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis
Development of excessive bleeding, bruising, or a rash
A whitish color behind the pupil
Nausea which persists or vomiting without feeling nauseous
Constant tiredness and unusual paleness
Eye or vision changes that are sudden and persistent
Recurrent or persistent fevers without a known cause