Most childhood cancers are caused by a simple change, or mutation, in the genes of a cell.
Mutations that result in cancer genes can develop just because copying DNA in dividing cells is a difficult business for the body. When a cell does get DNA damage, the result is a cancer gene. The cancer cell then starts growing out of control, developing abnormally, destroying their neighbor cells and spreading (metastasizing) to other organs and tissues.
Although the causes of mutations responsible for certain adult cancers are known, there has been almost no attention focused on the reasons for DNA changes that cause childhood. This information is critical in finding a true cure, but the lack of childhood cancer funding has prevented any aggressive research into the causes.
The most common childhood cancers are leukemia/lymphoma, and brain tumors. As children enter their teen years, there is an increase in bone cancer and germ cancers (ovarian and testicular). These cancers are very different than how they appear in adults. And for most of them, there is no way to prevent them or predict them. The are no life style, economic, or genetic variables that increase the likelihood of these cancers.
Here are some facts on childhood and teenage cancers:
Boys are more likely to get cancer than girls.
Boys have lower survival rates than girls.
Boys have higher relapse rates than girls.
White children are more likely to get childhood cancer than any other race.
Childhood cancers are more advanced and moving faster at time of diagnosis than adult cancers.
There has been only one new cancer drug for childhood cancer in the past 30 years.
Since children and teens can handle far more chemo than adults, the primary treatment is mega-doses of out dated adult chemos.
The number of children diagnosed with cancer has increased every year for the past 25 years.
The typical cost to bring a new cancer drug to market ranges from $850 million to $1.3 billion, but our government budgets only $30 million a year for all childhood cancers combined.
The number of teenagers diagnosed with cancer has increased every year for the past 25 years.
For reasons not fully known, teenagers experience the highest rate of secondary cancers as a result of the high dose chemotherapy treatments.
Teenagers have the highest fatality rate of any age group under 70.
Teenagers tend to get the most rare forms of cancer, therefore lacking established treatments.
At the time of diagnosis in teens, the cancer has already spread in 80% of the cases. That is compared to the 20% in adults.
A 5-year study at Children's Hospital Pittsburgh of UPMC recently concluded that teenage cancer survivorship is lower due in part to a lack of access to clinical trials. They concluded: "Patients who are enrolled in clinical trials offering the most advanced cancer treatments do better than patients who receive conventional treatment. Adolescents and young adults with cancer are less likely than younger children to be enrolled in clinical trials."
Early symptoms of childhood cancers also can make it difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may include fever, swollen glands, frequent infections, pale color, bruises and bone pains or limp. But all of these symptoms are common in healthy children, and doctors routinely pass them over as colds, flu's, infections, or other minor childhood ailments.
So how do we protect our children from cancer? Well, I guess your chances improve a little if you can make your kids a little less white, less boy, and less teenager. But that still is not a guarantee (and it's a little weird). The better option would be to help in awareness, and to push for more funding for research into childhood cancer. The money is simply not there. Go to PAC2 - People Against Childhood cancer - for some more specifics.
And never forget...
1 in 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20.
12,400 children are diagnosed each year.
3,000 will die of cancer each year.
There are currently 30,000-40,000 children fighting cancer in the U.S.
Cancer is the #1 disease killer of children ages 1-19.
The cause of most childhood cancers is still unknown.
Everyone of these are someones child. Someday it may be one of yours, or your grandchild, or niece, or nephew, or friend.