Few things are more heart-wrenching than either giving or receiving the news that a child has cancer. The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health reports that cancer is the leading cause of death among children between the ages of one and fourteen. Despite that, it is still relatively rare, with only one or two children per 10,000 diagnosed each year. Of the 10,400 children diagnosed with cancer in 2007, more than 1,500 will die. Below are five of the most common misconceptions about childhood cancer:
1. The parents are at fault. Parents may experience overwhelming feelings of guilt about their child having cancer. They agonize over what they could have done differently to prevent their child from being a cancer victim or think they somehow passed it on to their children. The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, no one knows why children get cancer. There is a long list of toxins in the environment that are carcinogens, but it is impossible to trace any specific instance of cancer back to childhood exposure to such substances. It is also highly unlikely that a parent has passed cancer to their children. Such genetic forms of cancer are extremely rare. With children, it is especially important to emphasize that cancer is not contagious and cannot spread from one child to another like a cold or flu.
2. Cancer research is well-funded, so a cure will come soon. In general, cancer research receives lots of funding, to the tune of $5 billion each year. However, only 3% of that money is directly focused on childhood cancer research. If you are a family with a childhood cancer patient, that may seem like a very small part of total research dollars. Other cancers, like lung cancer mesothelioma (malignant mesothelioma) receive very little research money as well, but the lack of fund devoted to childhood cancer is terrible.
3. Because cancer cannot be cured, a child who has cancer will die. Almost every instance of cancer can be treated and potentially cured. If a cancer patient undergoes treatment and is still cancer-free five years later, they are considered cured. Before 1970, childhood cancer was almost always fatal. In the past several decades, however, improvements in cancer treatments have brought the overall survival rate up to nearly 80%.
4. Treating childhood cancer is worse than death. The improvements that have taken place make childhood cancer treatment much less difficult than in the past. The best treatment centers are always looking for ways to improve children’s lives while undergoing treatment. Some of these improvements include less invasive procedures and new medications that reduce nausea, vomiting and other side effects.
5. Children with cancer cannot lead normal lives. Most children with cancer are able to lead regular lives, including returning to school after treatment and engaging in other typical childhood activities. Many resources are available to families dealing with cancer to help them make sure their child leads a happy, well-adjusted life.
Caregivers and families dealing with children who have cancer have enough to worry about in their lives. Helping them avoid the five common misconceptions about pediatric cancer outlined here will relieve some of their stress and anxiety.
Lawrence Reaves is a health advocate and freelance writer who also writes for asbestosnews.com.