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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Childhood cancer research holds hope

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Cancer is not a modern disease.

Imhotep, a great Egyptian physician, wrote about breast tumors in 2600 BC. Greek historian Herodotus described cancer in 400 BC. Archeologists have recovered bones with signs of cancer dating from 2,000 to an estimated 2 million years ago.

In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, the Indian-born American oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee writes that while cancer is as old as humanity, it wasn’t pervasive in the ancient world. Cancer, it seems, is a disease that develops over time and with age. Civilization, Mukherjee writes, hasn’t caused cancer so much as unveiled it. As each killer of humanity has been stripped away — typhus, bubonic plague, tuberculosis, pneumonia — lifespan has increased rapidly, up to 26 years in the 20th century. It is in today’s long-lived humans that cancer has revealed itself.

Childhood cancer
Childhood cancer is rare, but different from cancers in adults.

According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), in the U.S., more than 10,000 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer every year. About one quarter will not survive the disease.

According to ACCO, childhood cancers usually don’t include the common cancers found in adults, such as lung, breast and colon.
Instead, childhood cancers are found in bone, blood, and in organs like the brain, liver, kidney and lymph nodes. In children, these cancers are especially aggressive, according to ACCO.

Treating childhood cancer requires a team of specialists. Radiation, commonly used in adult cancer treatments, often can’t be used in children.

Childhood cancer successes informed adult cancer treatments
There was a time when leukemia wards were the last sorrowful stop for children with leukemia. Little was known. Nothing could be done.

Yet, today, five-year survival rates for various types of childhood leukemia range from 60 percent to 97 percent.

The progress occurred for more than a century in a chain of information: A Scottish physician in the 1880s describes infection of the blood; a German researcher refines the idea and identifies how cells grow; then a pathologist in Boston considers that a chemical might stop the unbridled cell growth of diseased cells; another proposes combining chemicals, the advent of chemotherapy.

These ideas transferred to the realm of adult ‘solid’ tumors and at last there was some hope in the treatment of cancers.

Still, one out of eight children with cancer will not survive.

So the research goes on.

In December 2017, according to curesearch.org, there were 25 new drugs in preclinical testing, one drug nearing clinical trials, and three ongoing clinical trials.

Curesearch, the American Cancer Society, and other groups still need donations to fund ongoing research and hope is on the horizon.

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