While childhood cancer is a topic many people avoid, avoidance can mean that the people who experience it feel forgotten. Whether childhood cancer is a horrific hypothetical situation, or a diagnosis that has been experienced personally or through someone else, it’s good to take time to remember the children who are diagnosed every week. International Childhood Cancer Day raises awareness of the disease and is a call to support cancer patients, survivors and their families.
What is childhood cancer?
Any cancer diagnosed in a person aged 0-19 falls into this category. In Australia, over 950 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer each year. 1/3 of those cancers will be found in children aged 0-4.
The most common cancers for adults, such as lung, rectal and breast cancers are very rare in children. Leukaemia, lymphoma and cancers of the central nervous system are the most common. Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancer isn’t linked to lifestyle and can’t be prevented. Other than some genetic links, there is no known cause for most childhood cancers.
Are children with cancer likely to survive?
It wasn’t so long ago that cancer in childhood was almost always fatal. These days, over 90% of Australian children survive. However, that number isn’t the same across all types of cancer. One type of cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, has a 90% survival rate, whereas the chances of surviving a brain tumour haven’t changed in decades from around 50%. Even when children’s bodies recover, cancer can take a huge toll on their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as putting a huge emotional and financial strain on families.
Circumstances can equal survival.
It’s a harsh reality, but according to the World Health Organisation up to 90% of childhood cancer deaths occur in areas that have low resources. People from low-income areas are less likely to detect cancer in time for early treatment, and they have less access to resources when parents or medical staff do suspect that something might be wrong. In Australia, there is a concerning survival gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, as well as for children who live in remote regions.
So what can be done?
Medical research into the various forms of childhood cancer is the only way to provide long-term solutions. Research breakthroughs can then be applied to the detection and treatment of cancer, which should eventually benefit children around the world. Other institutions provide support for children and their families as they undergo treatment.
If you wish to help financially, make sure you find a reputable charity where the assistance is guaranteed to go directly to the people who need it. Some other ideas might be fundraising, raising awareness, and taking the time to reach out if you know someone who has experienced a diagnosis of childhood cancer. If you are dealing with a diagnosis, make sure you have the support you need through this difficult time.