In honor of September’s national designation as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Robert Fallon, director of the Riley Children’s Cancer Center at Riley Hospital for Children and member of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, discusses childhood cancer – causes, prevalence, survival rates and treatments.
What causes childhood cancer?
Dr. Robert Fallon: Unlike adults, most childhood cancers are not caused by something a child has been exposed to in the environment. Rather, most childhood cancers are caused by changes in the DNA of cells in the body, bone marrow or muscle.
What is the most common form of childhood cancer?
The most common form of childhood cancer is acute leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and tissues, which produce the circulating blood cells. Signs of leukemia include bleeding in the gums and under the skin, frequent bruising, pale skin color, extreme fatigue and lack of energy. Unlike breast, colon or prostate cancers in adults, there are no early warning signs with most childhood cancers.
Are any childhood cancers more prevalent in the African-American community?
No. Childhood cancers appear similarly around the world and in all racial groups.
What are my child’s chances of surviving cancer?
Due to clinical research, the cure rate for all cancers has increased over the last few decades to 75 percent, meaning 3 out of 4 children who get cancer will be cured. The Riley Children’s Cancer Center is the only children’s cancer center in Indiana and cares for more than 80 percent of all Hoosier children with cancer. Riley is a national leader in providing clinical care and conducting research for children with cancer.
Is chemotherapy the most common treatment for childhood cancers?
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for adult cancers. For children with leukemia who do not need intensive therapy, many patients will spend one week in the hospital with traditional therapy treatments and then move to an outpatient setting with a prescribed treatment regimen tailored to each child. The regimen is designed to help normalize a child’s life, maximize the amount of time spent at home and school and minimize the amount of time spent in a hospital. Parents and guardians are partners in treating childhood cancer and it’s important for them to be involved and educated – knowing the medication, its schedule, side effects and abnormalities. Adherence to the treatment regimen and parental/guardian involvement and education are critical factors in the cure rate of childhood cancers.
What’s the most important thing you want readers to know?
Once a cancer is detected in a child, there is a high cure rate due to research, medication and parental/guardian involvement and education.
For more information on childhood cancers, visit RileyHospital.org.