cancer awareness month

Founded back in 2010 by former US president Barack Obama, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is now an annual event helping to raise funding and awareness for this devastating disease. When a child is told they have cancer, it can be a terrible time. Rather than focusing on school, friends and simply growing up; their lives start to revolve around treatment, operations and thought-processes far too intense for a child to have to endure.

This September, you can show your support for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by displaying your gold ribbon pin badge to help spread the message.

What Are the Facts?

Childhood cancer is a term that encompasses a range of different types of cancer that affect children aged between 0 and 14 years of age. Childhood cancers include Lymphomas, Leukaemia, Neuroblastoma, soft tissue tumours, bone tumours and Retinoblastoma. Brain tumours are among the most common of childhood cancers and are responsible for over a third of childhood cancer deaths.

However, there are different types of brain tumours that have varying rates of survival.  Neuroblastoma and bone tumours are the two main childhood cancers that, unfortunately, have the worst prognosis.

Although childhood cancer is rare, it is actually the number one cause of death in this age group.  Around 1 in 500 children will develop some form of cancer by the time they reach the age of 14 and 250 children lose their lives to cancer every year in the UK. With improvements in diagnosis and treatment, these figures have changed dramatically in the last few decades. Fifty years ago, the mortality rate for children diagnosed with cancer was 75%, whereas today, more than three-quarters of those diagnosed will survive.

What Causes Childhood Cancer?

Genetics play a big part in whether a child will develop a cancerous disease, as it usually begins with a genetic mutation within a cell. Some children will already have a genetic predisposition for developing cancer due to inheriting a faulty gene or through developing a faulty gene in the womb.  A faulty gene does not necessarily mean a child will get cancer, but the chances are a lot higher.

It is still not known exactly what causes a genetic mutation to become cancerous, but scientists have established that there is usually some sort of trigger that is caused by interaction with the environment.

What Research is Being Carried Out?

As you can imagine, there are hundreds of thousands of different avenues that could potentially provide answers to what causes cancer, so research into this takes a great amount of time, effort and funds. Also, as childhood cancers are rare in the UK, the chances for further research are hindered due to a lack of case studies. It is important for research centres, such as the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) and Cancer Research UK, to collaborate with charities further afield. This will increase the number of case studies that can be used.

Recently, Cancer Research UK has proposed the creation of an alliance with US-based research centres that will allow for new research ideas, technology development and shared data. The funding to support just three UK member centres of this new alliance will cost £10 million over a five-year period. This is an important step in helping to bring together research leaders in early cancer detection, but charities such as these rely solely on donations.

Unfortunately, there is no government funding for charities such as Cancer Research UK, so fundraising and campaigns such as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month are vital to making their life-saving work possible.

How Does Childhood Cancer Affect Families?

Of course, any serious illness is going to have a profound and lasting effect on the person and their loved ones. Sometimes, in times of crisis, bonds can be strengthened, but it can also cause some family members and friends to distance themselves. This can cause emotional and psychological distress at a time when a strong support system is of vital importance.  

To be told that your child has cancer opens up a whole other side of emotions. The parents may feel extreme guilt for the diagnosis, even though they know there is nothing they could have done to prevent it. They then have to find a way to explain to their child what they are about to go through.  Each child will react differently, but it is important that the family is open and honest to ensure the child feels safe and supported.

With the extensive treatment that will be required after receiving a diagnosis, parents will need to juggle work and family life to ensure that they can make the necessary hospital appointments. This can also put a financial strain on family life, so it is important that employers are aware of what their employee may be going through. Wearing the golden ribbon pin badge for Childhood Cancer Awareness month helps to bring these sorts of struggles into the light.

How Can You Help?

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is a great opportunity to help promote the different organisations and charities that are working so diligently to help find a cure. You can simply adorn the golden ribbon, or you can take part in fundraising events to help donate to such a worthy cause.  Why not order a collection box for your school or place of work, or arrange a cake sale or sponsored event?

You can simply donate a fixed amount to the cause via your chosen charity. If you have some spare time during the week, charities such as Children with Cancer UK are always happy to welcome new members into their volunteer team.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is also important to help remember those who have lost their battle to cancer, as well as to celebrate those who have won their battle. Dedicating just one month a year to really focus on spreading the word can make a huge difference.