September shines light on childhood cancer

  • Dr. Joseph M. Wiley, chairman of the department of pediatrics, The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai
Dr. Joseph M. Wiley, chairman of the department of pediatrics,… (Gene Sweeney Jr, Baltimore…)
September 08, 2010|By Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

If you've seen people wearing gold ribbons recently, it means they are showing support for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The medical community, survivors and families are trying to bring attention to the cause and raise money to support children with cancer.

Cancer is the leading cause of disease related to death among children, according to Dr. Joseph Wiley, chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai Hospital. The hospital just opened the Alfred I. Coplan outpatient hematology- oncology center, which provides a team, family-centered approach to treating children, adolescents and young adults with cancer. Wiley answered some questions about pediatric cancer.

Question: What are the most common types of childhood cancer?

Answer: The most common form of childhood cancer is acute leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, followed by brain cancers, lymphomas and a variety of solid organ and tissue cancers. However, incidence changes with age and site with two major peaks, the first occurring between ages 1 and 4, mostly due to acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and a second peak beginning at age 16, when lymphomas, solid cancers and skin cancers become more common.

Q: How prevalent are they and are some types increasing in number?

A: Childhood cancer is relatively rare, occurring in 16,000 American children under the age of 20 each year. Cancer is the leading cause of disease related to death among children 1-20 years of age. Untreated cancer in children is nearly always fatal, but advances in treatment have markedly improved survival, curing nearly 75 percent to 80 percent. In the case of cancers that have limited spread and which are treatable with chemotherapy, such as Hodgkin's disease, cure rates approach 100 percent. The incidence of cancer under the age of 20 has been relatively stable over the past two decades at 17.5 cases per 100,000 a year.

Q: What's different about childhood cancers compared with adult-onset cancers?

A: Childhood cancer is very different from adult cancers in terms of types and biologic behavior. Except for skin cancer, few, if any, causes of childhood cancer are known. Diet, environmental factors and behaviors (smoking, alcohol, etc.) have no significant contribution to the incidence. Childhood cancers mostly affect immature tissue in the blood and bone marrow (leukemias), central nervous system (brain tumors), bones, and immature kidney, adrenal, soft tissue and liver tissues. Common adult cancers such as breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, and low-grade lymphomas rarely occur in young people. Hodgkin's disease, aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and acute myeloid leukemia are relatively similar in children and adults. However, recent clinical trials demonstrate that for the population aged 16-25, treatment of certain leukemias and lymphomas by pediatric oncologists results in significantly better survival than treatments by adult medical oncologists, emphasizing a superior outcome with the pediatric approach.

Q: How are the cancers treated?

A: Most children and young adults (up to age 25) with cancer receive some form of chemotherapy, the mainstay of treatment for over 50 years. For solid cancers, surgery is a key component to improve cure, but rarely is it effective alone. Depending on type, stage (degree of spread) and location, radiation may be used alongside chemotherapy.

Fundraisers for childhood cancer

Alex's Lemonade Stand. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, at Oakland Mills Village Center, 5888 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia.

Carwash for Childhood Cancer. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, at Stevens Forest Exxon, 6300 Stevens Forest Road, Columbia

St. Baldrick's Shave Down. People sit side by side and face the clippers as part of the worldwide effort of Shaving the Way to Conquer Kids' Cancer. Freddie Long will perform. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Bushwaller's, 209 N. Market St., Frederick.

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