An Introduction to Childhood Cancer
Cancer is a general term given to diseases caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Awareness of and attention to adult cancers has grown exponentially over the past decades, but unfortunately, there is much less awareness of and knowledge about childhood cancer. Did you know that 1 out of every 285 children will be diagnosed with childhood cancer this year alone? Or that more than 1,200 children die from childhood cancer ever year? At the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), our mission is to educate and build awareness about this devastating disease and the terrible toll it takes on children and their families. So perhaps the best place to start is with a few simple facts about childhood cancer…
The Most Common Types of Childhood Cancer
Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancers are not closely linked to lifestyle choices or environmental exposure, nor are there screening mechanisms to enable early detection. Often, childhood cancer is not detected or diagnosed until it begins causing noticeable symptoms. The most common types of childhood cancer are:
- Leukemia: Leukemias involve cancers of the bone marrow and blood, and constitute about 30% of all childhood cancers. The two types we hear about most are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), both of which can grow quickly and require immediate treatment.
- Brain and central nervous system tumors: Brain tumors (and less commonly spinal cord tumors) make up about a quarter (26%) of all childhood cancers. There are a variety of different types of brain tumors, classified by where the tumor started, such as gliomas, astrocytomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors. Treatment and prognosis depends heavily on the exact type and location of the tumor.
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma begins in the immune system, and is likely to be found the lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, or spleen. Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for around 3% of childhood cancer and is most common in young adults; non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for around 5% of childhood cancers and occurs in younger children (but is rare in children under 3). Lymphoma is generally a rapidly-growing form of cancer and requires immediate treatment.
- Neuroblastoma: Found primarily in infants and very young children, neuroblastomas constitute about 6% of childhood cancers. Although neuroblastoma can start anywhere, it is most commonly found in the abdomen.
- Wilms tumor: About 5% of childhood cancers, Wilms tumor starts in one kidney (it can occur in both kidneys, but this is rare). It is most common in children between the ages of 3-4, and uncommon in children older than 6.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma: The most commonly occurring soft tissue sarcoma in children, this cancer grows in cells that develop into skeletal muscles and can be found anywhere in the body. It accounts for approximately 3% of childhood cancers.
- Bone cancers: Primary bone cancers start in the bones, and are distinguished from metastatic bone cancer, which is a cancer that has started elsewhere but spread into the bone. Primary bone cancers make up about 3% of childhood cancer; the most common types of bone cancer in children are osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.
- Retinoblastoma: This cancer starts in the eye and is most common in children under the age of two (it is rarely found in children older than 6). It constitutes about 2% of childhood cancers.
Why Is Raising Awareness About Childhood Cancer Important?
Although still considered to be “rare” by some, the fact is that childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death of children under the age of 15 after accidental deaths, and it seems like most people know at least someone in their school or their town who has been personally affected by childhood cancer. And while rates of childhood cancer are increasing, research into the development of new, less toxic treatment options for childhood cancer is not keeping pace; of the more than 100 new cancer drugs approved by the FDA since 1990, only two were developed specifically to treat childhood cancer. Many forms of childhood cancer are now considered “treatable”, with long-term survivor rates above 80 or even 90%, some forms of childhood cancer still have extremely high mortality rates and most survivors are left with long-term health problems as a result of their cancer treatment.
About the American Childhood Cancer Organization
The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, the ACCO is the sole US member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. At the national level, the ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer. At the grassroots level, the ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for families and learning resources for children in order to make the lives of children and their families easier and brighter during this difficult time. Many of our resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.
For additional information on our resources or information on how to obtain our resources free of charge, please visit our website at www.acco.org.
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