Childhood Cancer Awareness MonthMore children survive than ever before
It's probably the worst diagnosis a parent can hear - that their child has cancer.
Fortunately, the disease strikes far fewer young people than it does adults. But it still affects up to 1,700 children in the UK each year: that’s ten children who find out every day.
In fact, cancer is the most common cause of death from illness among one to 15-year-olds.
So while most of us would rather not contemplate the possibility, for a significant number of families the nightmare is all too real. That's why the major cancer charities are supporting Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this December.
Not only do they want parents to be aware of the symptoms to look out for, as early diagnosis is vital in beating the disease, but they are keen to raise more funds for those families needing emotional and financial support.
A survey earlier this month for charity CLIC Sargent found two thirds of parents of children with cancer are forced to borrow money to cover costs while their youngster has treatment.
Lorraine Clifton, CLIC Sargent’s chief executive, said: “Everyone is suffering in this economic climate, but parents of children with cancer are amongst the hardest hit. The extra costs can be significant.
“We’re dependent on the generous support of the public and other donors to fund our vital work to support young cancer patients.”
Of all children diagnosed with cancer, the most common type is leukaemia, afflicting one in three.
Meanwhile, cancers of the brain and spinal cord are diagnosed in one in five children with cancer, while rarer forms include retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer, Wilm’s Tumour, which afflicts the kidneys, and muscle or bone cancer and lymphoma.
Although the symptoms of some of these - such as Wilm’s Tumour – are easy to recognise, unfortunately others can present in similar ways to common childhood viruses, with fever, frequent infections, bone pain, night sweats, vomiting and headaches.
Of course, one-off symptoms are nothing to worry about, but if your child appears to be ill for a prolonged time or their symptoms are getting worse, it is always best to seek a doctor’s advice. As experts from charity Be Child Cancer Aware point out: “Just because your child is experiencing one or some of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean they have cancer.”
As for what causes childhood cancers, while some factors can increase risk – such as exposure to radiation or inherited medical conditions - there is no known prevention in the way that not smoking, for instance, might guard against it in adulthood.
Children’s cancers are very different to adult cancers, occurring in different parts of the body and responding differently to treatment.
The good news is that in the 1960s only around three out of every ten children with cancer were successfully treated, but today almost eight out of every ten will live for at least five years; the vast majority will, in fact, be cured.
Even if the prognosis is good, however, treatment – which can vary from chemotherapy to radiotherapy, transplants, steroids and surgery - can last months and be devastating for everyone concerned.
For the child, it means long stays in hospital, therefore being away from home and school. Even though they may try to keep up to date with schoolwork and see friends and family, often the treatment can make children physically very tired.
Parents, meanwhile, can find themselves unable to work, or having to reduce their hours, struggling to care for other siblings and taking on considerable expenses – as much as £400 a month on travel, hospital parking, food and other costs.
There is, though, support available for families going through a cancer crisis. Financially, there are several state benefits available, such as Disability Living Allowance, help from the Social Fund, Carer’s Allowance and travel expenses.
All local authorities’ Social Services departments have a responsibility to provide help to families with children suffering from chronic ill health, from home care to a disability car badge or aids and adaptations within the home.
And there are organisations that offer financial grants to children and young people with cancer, including CLIC Sargent, The Leukaemia Care Society and Macmillan Cancer Relief.
To help raise money this Christmas for children’s cancer care you buy your cards, gift wrap, baking accessories and even festive flowers from:
For help and advice on childhood cancer see:
Clic Sargent 0300 330 0803
Cancer Research UK 0300 123 1861
Macmillan Cancer Support 0808 808 0000
Children With Cancer 020 7404 0808
This article was published on Wed 7 December 2011
Image © Swetlana Wall - Fotolia.com
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