February is World Cancer awareness month. 15th February marks Childhood Cancer awareness day to spread literacy on childhood cancers.
1. The term “childhood cancer” is most commonly used to designate cancer that arises in children before the age of 18 years. Childhood cancers represent between 0.5% and 4.6%* of all cancers. The overall incidence rates of childhood cancer vary between 50 and 200 per million* children across the world.
2. Frequent types of Childhood Cancers.
The pattern of cancer in childhood differs considerably from those among people of all other ages. In general, leukaemia constitutes about a third of all cancer in childhood. The other most common malignancies are lymphomas and tumours of the central nervous system. There are several tumour types that occur almost exclusively in children including neuroblastoma, nephroblastoma, medulloblastoma and retinoblastoma. Cancer of the breast, lung, colon or rectum, typically occurring in adults, is extremely rare in children.
3. Known risks of developing Childhood Cancers.
To date only a few definite risk factors for childhood cancer have been identified. These include ionising radiation and ingestion of the hormone diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy (a treatment no longer in use). A number of childhood cancers are also associated with genetic factors, as suggested by the differences in incidence of childhood cancer between ethnically divergent populations. Individual susceptibility based on genetics may also play a role. Some studies have suggested that viruses such as Epstein-Barr, Hepatitis B, Human Herpes and HIV may also contribute to increased risk for some childhood cancers.
4. Can Childhood Cancers be detected early?
Most childhood cancer initially presents with non-specific signs and symptoms, which may lead to late detection. In high-income countries, because children are usually subjected to close parental and medical surveillance, cancer has a high chance of being detected early. In low-resourced countries, however, there are additional barriers to early detection, including poor access to health services and inadequate diagnostic facilities.
5. What are the Chances of curing Childhood Cancers?
In high-income countries, approximately 80% of children with cancer survive five years or more after the diagnosis of cancer. These improving outcomes result in a growing population of long-term survivors who need follow-up treatment and care. The prognosis is much lower for children diagnosed with cancer in low- and middle-income countries. Factors explaining this include: the late diagnosis of cancer leading to lower levels of effective treatment; poorly equipped hospitals without the appropriate medicines and equipment; other diseases that children might have; and a lack of knowledge about cancer among primary health care providers. In addition, treatment is simply not affordable for many parents in low-resource settings who would be required to pay for the costs themselves.