Surviving Childhood Cancer
September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
While there are more and more cases of Childhood Cancer every year, there have also been many advances in treating Childhood Cancer and the recovery rates have gone up much in the past few decades.
The progress in treating some cancers has been greater than in others.
Any hope of successful treatment and long-term survival depends on early diagnosis, and that is why Childhood Cancer Awareness is so important – the more aware people are of Childhood Cancer and the Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer, the more chance there is of early diagnosis and therefore more of a chance of survival.
The Best Defence against Childhood Cancer is Awareness and Early Diagnosis
Five-year Survival Rates
When discussing cancer survival statistics, doctors often use the terminology 5-year survival rate.
The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many children live much longer than 5 years; some live in remission for the rest of their lives, which could be a completely normal lifespan.
Bearing in mind that 5-year survival rates are based on Children with Cancer diagnosed and treated at least 5 years ago, it stands to reason that improvements in treatment often result in a better outlook for those more recently diagnosed.
The 5-year international survival rates for the most recent time period (2005-2011) for the more common Childhood Cancers, when diagnosed early enough, are:
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia: 89%
- Acute Myeloid Leukaemia: 65%
- Brain and other Central Nervous System Tumours: 72%
- Wilms Tumours: 92%
- Hodgkin Lymphomas: 98%
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas: 89%
- Rhabdomyosarcomas: 69%
- Neuroblastomas: 78%
- Retinoblastomas: 97%
- Osteosarcomas: 69%
- Ewing Sarcomas: 78%
Unfortunately, the above survival rates are from overseas and look quite promising, but locally the survival rates do not look that good:
According to a study on survival rates in South Africa, headed by Professor David Stones of Universitas Hospital, and published in a 2014 paper, Childhood Cancer Survival Rates in Two South African Units, the median survival rate for the most common cancers was a mere 52.1%.
Lymphoma and Nephroblastoma had the highest survival rates at 63.9% and 62.6% respectively, whilst Brain Tumours had the lowest survival rate at 46.4%.
The reason for the major discrepancy in survival rates is mainly due to the fact that many children present too late for successful treatment outcomes. Some of the challenges to improving survival rates include limited resources, late presentation, co-morbid infections and malnutrition.
Although cancer does not discriminate by race, the survival rate between races differs in South Africa, with the highest rate of 62.8% found in white children and the lowest of 48.5% in black children.
Reasons for many black children presenting at an advanced stage is due to inadequate access to healthcare in impoverished areas, late referrals and a lack of knowledge about paediatric cancers.
The study concluded that “Survival rates for childhood cancer in SA remain low when compared with international data. Children of black ethnic origin had significantly lower overall survival for all malignancies. Greater awareness of the danger signs of paediatric malignancy will foster earlier diagnosis of disease and lead to improved outcomes for all ethnic groups.”
Survival rates in any country are based on previous outcomes of large numbers of Children with Cancer, but they are basically nothing more than rough estimates and one cannot predict what will happen in any specific case of Childhood Cancer – in addition, survival rates have not been consistent.
The type of Childhood Cancer is important in estimating any child’s outlook. Many other factors could also be important, such as the child’s age, the exact type of cancer, the location and extent of the tumour, the treatment received, and how well the cancer responds to treatment.
If your child is diagnosed with cancer, their oncologist is your best source of information on this topic, as he or she knows your child’s situation best.
During and after any type of cancer treatment, the main concerns for most Children with Cancer and their Families are the short- and long-term effects of the cancer, its treatment, and concerns about the cancer still being present after treatment or recurring.
It is normal for the families of Children with Cancer to want to put the cancer and its treatment behind them and to get back to a life that does not revolve around the cancer as soon as possible. It is important, however, to realise that follow-up care is a central part of this process, and offers children the best chance for recovery and long-term survival.
Once treatment is finished, the child’s health care team will set up a follow-up schedule. It is crucial that children who have gone into remission have regular follow-up examinations with their cancer care team. As time goes by, the risk of the cancer coming back goes down, and visits to the doctor or clinic might be needed less often. They are still important, however, because some side effects of the Childhood Cancer or of the Cancer Treatment might not show up until years later.
More children treated for Childhood Cancer are now surviving into adulthood thanks to major advances in treatment. The treatment may affect children’s health later in life, however, so watching for health effects as they get older has become more of a concern in recent years.
Treating Childhood Cancer requires a very specialised approach, and so does the care and follow-up treatment. The earlier any problems are recognised, the more likely it is they can be treated effectively.
Childhood cancer survivors are at risk, to some degree, for several possible late effects of their cancer treatment. It’s important to discuss what these possible effects might be with your child’s medical team.
The risks for each child depend on a number of factors, such as the type of cancer, the specific cancer treatments used, the doses of cancer treatment, and the child’s age at the time of treatment.
Some of the more common late effects of Childhood Cancer Treatment include:
- Heart or lung problems (due to certain chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy to the chest area)
- Slowed or delayed growth and development (in the bones or overall)
- Changes in sexual development and the ability to have children
- Learning problems
- Increased risk of other cancers later in life
It’s very important to discuss possible long-term complications with your child’s health care team, and to make sure there is a plan to watch for these problems and treat them, if needed.
Posted on 19 September, 2016, in Blog and tagged cancer, Cancer Awareness Month, cancer treatment, Cancer Treatments, Child Cancer Awareness, childhood cancer, Childhood Cancer Awareness, childhood cancer survivorship, Children with Cancer, chl, LFCT, Little Fighters Cancer Trust. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.