Because of better treatment methods, outcomes for childhood cancer patients have improved in recent years.
About 2,500 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. Childhood cancer was once thought to be untreatable, but today most children who have cancer can overcome it. Dr. Daniel Niebrugge, assistant professor of pediatric hematology/oncology at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains the most common childhood cancers.
“What we see primarily is leukemia. What we call childhood leukemia or acute lymphocytic leukemia and brain tumors. If you add the childhood leukemia and brain tumors, it’s about half of everything we see in pediatrics, just in those two diagnoses. We see occasionally kidney tumors or bone tumors, but again those are fairly small numbers.”
Dr. Niebrugge, who also is one of the cancer specialists at SIU’s Simmons Cancer Institute, says the most common age group of children who are diagnosed with leukemia are preschool and elementary school ages. Many of his patients receive the benefits of enrolling in national clinical trials, which means they have access to medications that may have fewer side effects. He says research data shows that survival rates are improving.
“. . . from year 2000 the survival rate is about 75 percent. And I would guess if we looked at 2000 to 2010, when we get those data, it’s going to be closer to 80 percent. Now that’s all childhood tumors and leukemia. So it’s really an amazing accomplishment that has happened in a 40 year period.”
Dr. Niebrugge says today most children with cancer can have a normal life – they can go to school and participate in regular childhood activities. As for warning signs, any child who has persistent fever, sore throat or bone pain lasting for a few weeks should be seen by their pediatrician or primary care physician. The child may be referred to a pediatric oncologist for further evaluation and possible treatment.