Because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Northwest Specialty Hospital believes this is a timely opportunity to shed light on the unique concerns associated with cancer in children.
In our pediatric care practice, we know that parents who bring their children in for medical appointments rarely consider cancer as a reason for their child not feeling well or experiencing adverse health symptoms. Not only is cancer relatively rare in children, but it is tough for a parent even to think of their child as having cancer. Yet, it does happen. This month is an excellent time to give a little attention and support to those children and families coping with cancer and to review some facts about childhood cancer that can help parents stay vigilant in safeguarding their children’s health.
The Most Common Types of Childhood Cancers
Childhood cancers encompass a range of different types, each with unique characteristics. Some of the most common childhood cancers include:
- Leukemia: Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow and is the most prevalent form of childhood cancer. Over 17,000 cases of leukemia are diagnosed in children every year in the US. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common subtype, followed by acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and there are additional subtypes within these categories. Depending upon the type, there are different risk factors. Significant strides have been made in treating leukemia, and the overall prognosis for childhood leukemia is approaching a 90% five-year survival rate.
- Brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) Tumors: This is a broad category of cancers that describes cancerous tumors that can develop in various parts of the brain or spinal cord, affecting a child’s neurological functions. Medulloblastoma and glioma are the more frequently encountered brain tumors in children. The overall five-year survival rate for all CNS cancers is about three out of four. Over 4,000 cases of CNS cancer are diagnosed annually.
- Neuroblastoma: Neuroblastoma is a cancer that forms in immature nerve cells, most commonly found in the adrenal glands above the kidneys. It is often diagnosed in infants and young children. The five-year survival rate for neuroblastomas depends greatly upon the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed, as well as the presence of different risk factors.
- Wilms Tumor: This type of kidney cancer typically affects children aged 3 to 4 years. It can be found in one or both kidneys. When detected and treated early, it has a high survival rate. About 500 cases of Wilms tumors are diagnosed yearly.
- Lymphoma: Lymphomas are cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, a part of the body’s immune system. Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the two main types found in children. Effective treatments include chemotherapy and radiation therapy; the five-year survival rate is around 90% when caught and treated early.
Prevalence and Symptoms
Childhood cancers may be rare, but they significantly impact the affected families and communities. According to statistics, approximately 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before age 20.
Recognizing the early warning signs of any childhood illness is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment, including for cancer. In addition to bringing your child in for regular annual check-ups and noting any health complaints, parents should take note when their child exhibits unusual health symptoms, including:
- Unexplained and persistent fevers
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Persistent headaches or vomiting
- Unexplained bruises or bleeding
- Changes in vision or eye abnormalities
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Pain or soreness in an area of the body that does not diminish
While these symptoms are not dispositive that cancer is present, they are symptoms of something wrong. Parents should observe and take note of their children’s physical complaints. If a child complains of persistent pain or exhibits unexplained behaviors or symptoms, it is essential to take these signs seriously. These complaints may be unrelated to cancer, but it is better to be cautious. Seek medical advice to rule out any serious underlying health issues.
Schedule a Check-up
As noted above, the prognosis for different childhood cancers varies depending on the type of cancer, the stage at diagnosis, and the child’s response to treatment. If a child’s complaint or symptoms are persistent, schedule a visit with our dedicated pediatric care team at NWSH. If your child’s regular check-up is due, it is a good opportunity to ask questions and bring up anything unusual. Regular visits allow for continuous monitoring of a child’s growth, development, and overall well-being, and these exams provide your healthcare professional an opportunity to identify any concerning signs that may warrant further investigation.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges young patients, their families, and medical professionals face in the battle against cancer. Through increased awareness, regular check-ups, and early intervention, we can continue to improve the lives of children affected by cancer.
If your child is due for a check-up, call Northwest Pediatrics today to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric care providers.