Is Childhood Cancer Rare?
There are many different types of pediatric cancer with some of them being rare. When a child gets diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, there may arise a range of difficulties in receiving a diagnosis or care because of the number of types of cancers that need to be ruled out and the time it takes to start the right treatment plan. Among all the ‘rare’ and ‘common’ types of cancers children develop, is childhood cancer rare relative to the total number of people that receive a cancer diagnosis?
According to the U.S. Rare Diseases Act passed in 2002, all childhood cancers are considered ‘rare’ because of the amount of the total population it affects. Despite that, cancer is still the top cause for childhood deaths under accidents. For every type of childhood cancer that occurs, there are hundreds of subtypes or rare types that also occur.
This means that it is very difficult to acquire funding for research towards finding effective and specified treatment methods for specific types of cancer. With childhood cancer seen as ‘rare,’ the U.S. government only provides 8% of total cancer funding to support the wide range of childhood cancers.
How rare is childhood cancer in the scheme of all cancers?
It was estimated last year that over 15,000 children between the ages of 0-19 would receive a cancer diagnosis in the United States. In 2018, just over 48,000 children that survived cancer were still alive in the U.S. This number will continue to increase alongside the steady rise in the number of children that receive a cancer diagnosis. With additional funding and research efforts, we can improve this number even more.
Survival rates for certain types of cancers have increased since the 1970’s with 85% of children of children surviving more than 5 years compared to only 58% surviving during the 70’s. Childhood cancer diagnoses are different from types of adult cancers with genetic factors only contributing to a very small number of cases. Childhood cancers are also less likely to originate from lifestyle and environmental factors compared to many types of adult cancers.
According to cancer.gov, for each age range, there are:
“17.8 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 children ages younger than 15 years
77.4 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39 years
548.9 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 adults ages 40 to 64 years” (cancer.gov).
Of those cancer diagnoses, there are hundreds of types of cancer and the timeline of diagnostics to treatment can be slowed down by the process of ruling out the many types of cancer. With funding so low, it can take longer for children to receive the proper diagnosis and care because resources are not always readily available or accessible to the family impacted by childhood cancer. Depending on where the family lives and their economic means, childhood cancer can be more difficult to receive treatment for than many adult cancers.
This highlights the fact that funding for childhood cancer should not be decided on based on how commonly occurring it is but rather the many challenges and roadblocks that families face when their children receive a cancer diagnosis. Of the children that do survive cancer and cancer treatments, 50% of them will have chronic health issues. Many children receive no follow up care because it is not offered or is unaffordable. It is clear that ‘rareness’ does not account for the many ways that funding is desperately needed to make an impact in childhood cancer.
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