During 2013, some 11,000 children are expected to be diagnosed with cancer and more than 1,300 of them will probably die as a result. Although there has been a lot of progress made in recent decades, childhood cancer is still the second leading cause of death among children and is a major concern requiring much more attention than it receives. In honour of September being Childhood Cancer Awareness month, we decided it is important to take a deeper look at this topic. Everyone knows the evils of cancer, but the havoc it wreaks on children’s lives remains much more hush hush.
The issue at hand
To this day, the cause of cancer in children is generally unknown. Some speculate on environmental causes, others on genetic abnormalities. Regardless, cancer rates have increased over the past decades in young children to around 15 cases per 100,000 at very young ages to an astounding 1 in 300 by the age of 20. Fortunately survival rates are also on a slight uptick. Five year survival rates increased from near 60% in the 1970s to just shy of 80% in the early 2000s. More advanced screening techniques allow doctors to catch the disease earlier and, in turn, administer much more effective treatments than what was previously available but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Adult vs. childhood cancer
Not only are children susceptible to cancer, but they often are victims of cancer types that are relatively unknown. Everyone knows about breast or colon cancer, but you never hear anything about Ewing sarcoma or osteosarcoma which frequently attack children. Adults and children need different treatments - even for the same type of cancer. Various methods, like chemo for example, are effective with children but have been known to cause a myriad of other issues (such as other cancers) in the short and long-term. Children’s bodies have different physiological makeups and therefore react differently than adults to many treatments which means more time and money needs to be spent on cure/treatment research focused on children. This, however, is not the case.
Since more adults have cancer (millions more actually) pharmaceutical companies typically target their treatments and new drugs towards the bigger market which nets them higher profits. In 2012 alone, 23 new cancer drugs were approved for adults. Whereas, in the past two decades, only one drug has been FDA approved for children. Much of the funding for research of childhood cancer comes from the private sector or large donations from forward thinking companies (check out what Hyundai just did to help fight children’s cancer). Currently, the National Cancer Institute is funding a multitude of studies on the causes and treatments of childhood cancer. While this is great news, it hardly negates the fact that less than 5% of the billions of dollars worth of cancer research funds go towards children.
A lighter note
Aside from the gloomy statistics, progress is indeed being made in the field. There are revolutionary treatments being researched and some are already in practice. Stem cells, despite the controversy surrounding them, have almost miraculous healing potential. Organizations like Familycord use stem cells saved from your baby's umbilical cord to help the body regenerate damaged organs, tissue and cells. Furthermore, stem cells have been extremely successful at treating cancer itself. Treatments like this should give people hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
In conclusion, yes - we are making progress in the field but it is far from enough. Children should not be left to suffer through such awful diseases. Children dying at the rate of 32 per day is unacceptable and a more in depth focus on childhood cancer is required to protect our greatest resources.