"Your child has cancer." They are words every parent can't imagine hearing.
However, many parents are still in the dark about what causes pediatric cancer, how it is treated and the quality of life for children following treatment. To help parents better understand pediatric cancer and bring greater awareness to the disease, experts at the Children's Cancer Hospital at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center dispel common myths and give the facts about pediatric cancer.
Pediatric cancer has a low impact on childhood deaths in the United States.
Pediatric cancer is rare, but it is the leading cause of death by disease in children - more than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined. Each school day, one in 46 children is diagnosed with cancer. Although pediatric patients represent only one percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year, the impact of childhood cancer deaths on society in regards to lifetime earnings is close in comparison to the impact of breast cancer deaths.
The United States spends five billion dollars on cancer research every year; three percent of this amount is allocated to pediatric cancer research.
In 2008, the National Cancer Institute budget for cancer research was nearly five billion dollars, and this is where most federal funding for childhood cancer research comes from, with a small amount coming through philanthropy.While it is difficult to determine precisely how much in any given year is spent on childhood cancer research, experts estimate that number to be around $170 million per year. However, when comparing the average cost of cancer treatment to life years saved, childhood cancer has a significantly lower average cost than those costs associated with screenings for breast, prostate, colon and ovarian cancers.
Different types of leukemia make up more than half of all childhood cancers.
While leukemias account for about one third of pediatric cancer, cancers of the brain and central nervous system are also very common in children. These include cancers such as medulloblastoma and glioma. The most common type of leukemia in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Most drugs used to treat pediatric cancers are 20 years old.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the most common drugs to treat pediatric cancers predominantly in the 1950s and 1960s. Since 1980, only a handful of drugs have been labeled for use in a pediatric malignancy compared with more than 50 new molecular entities approved for adult oncology indications. On December 28, 2004, the FDA approved Clofarabine (ClolarTM; Genzyme Corp.) for the treatment of pediatric patients 1- 21 years old with relapsed or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) following treatment with at least two prior regimens. Clofarabine is the first new leukemia treatment approved specifically for children in more than a decade. Trials examining the use of Clofarabine in pediatric patients were conducted at the Children's Cancer Hospital.
Treatment for pediatric cancers is improving - less patients are relapsing and dying.
Childhood cancer was almost always fatal before 1970. Today, thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer will survive beyond five years up from 58 percent twenty years ago.
Adult regimens can not be used to treat children with cancer.
While adult treatments can sometimes cause more undesired side effects in growing children, as more targeted therapies that are able to hone in on cancer cells and leave healthy cells untouched are developed, children will continue to benefit. One hallmark of the Children's Cancer Hospital, is that pediatric patients have access to M. D. Anderson's adult therapies and world-renowned clinical trial program.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the only treatments available to treat pediatric cancers.
Biologically-based gene therapies are the cutting edge of treatment for children with cancer. By harnessing antibodies in the body's own immune cells, researchers can essentially make a genetically modified "drug" that can be programmed to attack pediatric cancer cells. This type of cell therapy targets cancer cells and minimizes side effects, providing an attractive new option to pediatric oncologists. The Children's Cancer Hospital currently has clinical trials underway examining the use of T cells and natural killer cells (types of white blood cells) to treat pediatric cancer.
Only localized, solid tumors can be treated successfully in children.
Survival rates for the four major childhood blood cancers are continuing to rise, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (9/08). Researchers found that five- and 10-year survival rates for U.S. children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are approximately 90%. On the other hand, the survival rates for solid tumors such as bone cancers have shown little improvement in the past two decades.
There is often a delay diagnosing adolescents and young adults (ages 13 and up) with cancer.
Most people don't think "cancer" for apparently simple "growing pains" in this age group. For this reason, many adolescents and young adults receive the cancer diagnosis much later than their younger counterparts. Other potential reasons identified for this lag time include lack of health insurance, the psychosocial need to be independent, symptoms that are not specific enough to lead to an early diagnosis, and the age group is less likely to seek medical attention. Research underway at the Children's Cancer Hospital is examining these factors, as well as looking at the unique, and best, ways to treat this age group. Several research studies support that adolescents and young adults with cancer respond better to pediatric treatment protocols in comparison to adult protocols.
Treatment for pediatric cancer is difficult and survivors have little chance of leading a normal life following treatment.
Most children with pediatric cancer go onto live healthy, successful lives and many go onto to have children of their own. Support and quality of life programs let kids be kids while they are undergoing treatment. For example, the Children's Cancer Hospital offers an on-site school so that pediatric patients can keep up with their normal schoolwork. Special summer camp and winter ski trips also give young patients the confidence that they can do anything they put their mind to. A survivor clinic continues to monitor patients for secondary health conditions as a result of their treatment and new cancers for years after they have completed treatment.
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston