September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Each day, 43 families in the United States will hear the words “your child has cancer.”
Dealing with a childhood cancer diagnosis can be one of the most devastating and frightening experiences for a family to face.
Childhood cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the past 40 years. More than 80 percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more.
September focus on the importance of early detection, which can help children beat the disease.
Early detection is key to attain the best chance of a cure, as cancer progresses, more changes occur in the DNA of the cancer cells that can make them more resistant to common therapies and harder to treat.
Here are some of the most common cancer symptoms children experience:
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
The most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia accounts for about 34 percent of all cancers in children. ALL typically occurs between the ages of 2 and 4, and is more common in males than females. Leukemia begins in bone marrow and spreads to the blood, and can then spread to the organs. Three out of four childhood leukemia cases are ALL.
- Bone and joint pain
- Weight loss
Brain tumors and other nervous system tumors make up about 27 percent of childhood cancers. There are many types of brain tumors and the treatment and outlook for each is different. Most brain tumors in children start in the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brain stem. Although brain tumors are typically different in children as opposed to adults, many of the symptoms remain the same.
- Balance problems
- Vision, hearing or speech problems
- Frequent vomiting
Neuroblastoma arises from immature nerve cells in infants and young children. Primarily found in children younger than 5, this disease often begins in the adrenal glands and makes up 7 percent of childhood cancers in the US. It’s more common in males than females, and only 1-2 percent of children with this disease have a family history of it.
- Impaired ability to walk
- Changes in eyes (bulging, dark circles, droopy eyelids)
- Pain in various locations of the body
- High blood pressure
Wilms Tumor starts in the kidneys and is the most common type of pediatric kidney cancer. Wilms tumors usually only form in one kidney, but sometimes both – only in small cases – and accounts for about 5 percent of all pediatric cancers. This disease is typically found in very young children – 3 to 4 years old – and is not common in children over 6. There are approximately 500 new cases a year in the U.S. and about 9 out of 10 children are cured.
- Swelling or lump in the belly
- Poor appetite
Lymphoma starts in certain cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. These cancers affect lymph nodes and other lymph tissues, like the tonsils or thymus. They can also affect the bone marrow and other organs, and can cause different symptoms depending on where the cancer is growing. There are two main types of lymphoma:
Hodgkin lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin disease, is rare in children younger than 5 years of age. This type of cancer is very similar in children and adults, including which types of treatment work best.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to occur in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than 3. The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are different from those in adults. These cancers often grow quickly and require intensive treatment, but they also tend to respond better to treatment than most non-Hodgkin lymphomas in adults.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Weight loss
If you are concerned about any changes, please talk with your child’s doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often your child has been experiencing the symptom, in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem.
If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your child’s health care team about symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.