Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – what is childhood cancer and how are families supported?

September is childhood cancer awareness month, and many families across Ireland are all too aware of the challenges posed by childhood cancer.

The Irish Cancer has gathered information and resources to help families through this difficult time.

One of the services the organization provides is a peer-to-peer support line where all volunteers are parents who have had children treated for cancer.

The Irish Cancer Society’s cancer.ie website has information to help parents deal with the overwhelming news that their child has cancer. It also contains useful information about what to expect from treatment and how to deal practically and emotionally during and after treatment.

Another major focus of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is raising awareness of some of the cancers that fall into this category.

So what is childhood cancer?

Cancer is not one condition, but rather it is an umbrella term for more than 200 diseases that cause abnormal or defective cells in the body to grow and multiply.

Although relatively rare in children compared to adults, a cancer diagnosis is devastating for any family.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, about 170 children and teenagers under the age of 15 are affected by childhood cancer in Ireland each year.

Cancer in children usually occurs in different parts of the body to cancer in adults. They also look different under the microscope and respond differently to treatment.

Cure rates for children are much higher than for most adult cancers. On average, more than eight in ten children in Ireland survive cancer for five years or more.

Anyone wishing to be referred to one of the Irish Cancer Society’s trained parent volunteers is invited to call the Irish Cancer Society Support Line on toll-free 1800 200 700. They can also email supportline@irishcancer.ie

Most common childhood cancer

Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells that help fight infection. This accounts for one in three childhood cancers in Ireland. The two main types of leukemia are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Brain tumors refer to cancer that causes a clump of abnormal cells in the brain. Some are benign (not cancer), while others are malignant (cancer). The most common types are astrocytoma, medulloblastoma, and ependymoma.

Sarcoma is cancer that affects muscles or bones. They include soft tissue sarcomas, rhabdomyosarcoma, and bone tumors, such as Ewing’s sarcoma and osteosarcoma.

Germ cell tumor refers to cancer that affects the cells that make eggs (in a girl’s ovaries) or sperm (in a boy’s testicles).

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The two main types are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Liver cancer affects the liver, a vital organ that helps the blood to clot, breaks down dietary fats and carbohydrates and removes harmful substances from our body. The most common types of malignant tumors in the liver are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Neuroblastoma is cancer that affects nerve cells called neuroblasts. It occurs in the nervous system or adrenal glands and is usually located in the abdomen, but can occur anywhere in the body.

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer that causes a tumor in the eye.

Kidney tumor is cancer that affects the kidney. The kidneys filter the blood to remove waste products. The most common type that affects children is called Wilms tumor. It is also called nephroblastoma.

Other epithelial and melanomas include rare tumors of the head and neck (nasopharyngeal carcinoma) and skin (melanoma).

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