A threat that every parent looks to avoid when raising children is the risk of childhood cancer, but as scientific leads continue to be made in the field of oncology, it may no longer be the death sentence that the diagnosis previously spelled for its victims. Over the past 40 years, the total rate of survival for children diagnosed with cancer has increased significantly from 10 percent to more than 80 percent. This positive shift not only brings insight into the advances of modern science and medicine, but also to the hearts and minds of those who are fighting to see another day.
A malignant neoplasm, referred to more commonly as cancer, is the diagnosis given to a wide range of diseases that present with the unregulated growth of abnormal cells. Throughout the course of a cancer’s involvement in the body, cells experience growth and division in an uncontrollable fashion, causing malignant tumors to form. This biological malady is known to affect its immediate surroundings within the body, but also possesses the capability of spreading via the lymphatic system or bloodstream. As of January 1, 2010, the number representing the estimated prevalence of cancer in America citizens resides at just over 13 million. It is projected that there will be over 1.6 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2014.
Although childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death in America, this death sentence is no longer synonymous with its diagnosis. Notable differences exist between the types of cancers that present in children than in adult cases. The normal function of the trillions of cells that make up the human body consists of a life cycle that entails growth, division into new, healthy cells, and death, following by immediate replacement. All cancers can be linked back to the abnormal growth pattern of these cells within any given part of the body. Due to the fact that cancer most commonly presents itself in children during early stages of development, the environmental and lifestyle factors that commonly contribute to cancer in adults do not apply.
Between 1975 and 2004, the accounts in which a child has been diagnosed with an invasive, or spreading, cancer have increased from 11.5 cases to 14.8 cases per every 100,000 children. However, the rate of deaths among these cases dramatically decreased, along with a heightened survival rate. For all childhood cancer cases from 1975 to 1977, the survival rate was 58.1 percent, and from 1996-2003, those rates shot up to 79.6 percent. The combination of advances in screening, surgery, and targeted therapies are giving doctors and families the edge they need to gain a definitive edge against the disease.
Healthy lifestyle choices also play in important role in cancer prevention in every case, not just in children. Diets consisting of the recommended daily quantities of fruits and vegetables, as well as limits placed on the consumption of meats and sodas can lower the risk of obesity, and the associated risks for disease. Striving to spend less time in front of the television and opting at least 60 minutes of exercise can also aid in raising overall wellness. Excessive exposure to the sun, as well as use of tobacco products are both agents that can raise a child’s susceptibility to cancer, and should be avoided whenever possible. Although there is no absolute defense again childhood cancer, as advances in education, prevention, and treatment continue to increase, the risk of death from these cases will decrease, and with it, the sentence of death upon its carriers.
By Darrell Purcell