Every day in the United States, approximately 43 young lives are changed by a diagnosis of cancer. Last year alone, Valley Children’s oncology team newly diagnosed 161 children with cancer and cared for 1,256 oncology patients. However, continuous advancements in research and treatments bring hopeful outcomes for these children and their families.
Why are these statistics important? Why should you pay attention? Because childhood cancer doesn’t discriminate. Any child, anywhere, can be impacted by cancer. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states about 12,500 children and adolescents under the age of 20 years are diagnosed with cancer nationwide each year.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This recognition creates an opportunity to focus on increasing awareness not only about this dreadful disease, but also the innovations and progress happening to improve the treatment, recovery and life after for these children.
Childhood cancers are still quite rare, and therefore there’s a benefit to pediatric physicians and researchers sharing knowledge and information. This is one of the many reasons the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) was started. This organization is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to pediatric cancer research and treatment and they continually develops new trials, therapies and evaluate new emerging treatments. Many credit this information sharing as one of the reasons five-year survival rates for pediatric cancer patients has increased from 10% to approximately 85% over the last 60 years. Valley Children’s is enrolled in more than 100 clinical trials each year, providing the most innovative treatments right here in the Central Valley, alleviating the traveling burdens for patients and their families who live here.
Unfortunately, for children who battle cancer, surviving is winning only part of the fight. Current cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy carry the risk of adverse reactions. More than 99% of children who survive cancer suffer long-term side effects. These can be as serious as a second cancer diagnosis, infertility and heart disease caused by the aggressive treatments needed to combat childhood cancers. In addition to the physical impact of childhood cancer, survivors are prone to experience mental health risks: 16% of childhood cancer survivors meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ensuring childhood cancer survivors thrive into adulthood takes a consistent and compassionate approach to care coordination. Ten years ago, Valley Children’s established the Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program. This program aims to meet the medical and psychological needs of all childhood cancer survivors living in the Central Valley. These needs include medical follow-up appointments, education on potential health issues as an adult and support group opportunities to meet and connect with other survivors.
There is no doubt we will see childhood cancer cure rates and long-term side effects improve more as medicine gets more precise, ultimately, providing tremendous hope for our children’s health and future.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. In honor of the children impacted by cancer, I encourage you to visit Valley Children’s website, follow Valley Children’s on social media and hear the stories from our patients and survivors. We’re working to provide the best oncology care for kids, because we know every child in the Central Valley is counting on us, and indeed, every future is worth fighting for!
by Vinod Balasa, MD
Medical Director, Cancer and Blood Disorders Center
Valley Children’s Healthcare