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Published on September 19, 2014

Young Patients Enjoy Special Activities to Mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The number of childhood cancer cases across the country is increasing, but so, too, is the number of children beating and surviving cancer.

In 2014, an estimated 15,780 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in individuals from newborns to 19 years old, according to the National Cancer Institute. Approximately 1 in 285 children will receive a cancer diagnosis before he or she turns 20 years old.

“But even with increasing numbers, childhood cancer is still rare,” said Barbara Gruner, M.D., pediatric hematology and oncology physician with University of Missouri Health Care and associate professor of child health at the MU School of Medicine. “Only one percent of all cancer cases in Americans will be in children.”

Specialists at MU Children’s Hospital are raising awareness of childhood cancer as part of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September. As part of the national awareness month, patients and their families will be attending the Missouri Tiger football game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Faurot Field on Saturday, Sept. 20. Each year, the University of Missouri Athletic Department provides tickets for these young patients. This year that group will include 200 people.

“The kids and their families look forward to this event,” said Gruner. “They love and really appreciate the opportunity to get to do something fun, something that everyone can enjoy together.”

MU Children’s Hospital offers a dedicated children’s blood disorders and cancer unit, a state-of-the-art area where young patients come for outpatient treatment. The treatments, depending on the type and stage of cancer, may be required for up to three years. However, many patients are able to be treated on a primarily outpatient basis, giving them the chance to stay home and go to school to be with friends.

“The biggest thing these patients and their families need to know is that this is not a death sentence,” Gruner said. “These cancers are very treatable, and in most cases it is a problem that can be corrected. The majority of our childhood cancer patients are able to ride bikes and play games just like their friends. For most children, dealing with cancer and the treatments becomes part of a new routine. While it is never normal, it also in many cases is not forever.”

Because of advancements in research and treatments like those available at MU Children’s Hospital, the national statistics are improving. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer now survive at least five years. One in every 530 adults ages 20 to 39 years old are childhood cancer survivors.

“There have been so many improvements in care and prognosis,” said Terry Hessenkemper, R.N., a nurse in the childhood blood disorders and cancer unit at MU Children’s Hospital. “The research is really paying off and making a huge difference in kids’ lives. We have also seen great advancements in support care, like medication, and now children are able to feel more normal while undergoing chemotherapy. The disease doesn’t own them.”

Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and blood, is the most common type of childhood cancer. Nationwide, leukemia accounts for about 31 percent of all cancers in children.

MU Children’s Hospital has full-service treatment for all pediatric cancers. In addition, the hospital has all the support services, including surgical needs, infectious disease care and neurological support, which a patient may need while undergoing treatment. The blood disorders and cancer unit also provides support for families, including education and counseling. Patients and family members can meet with the health care team, which is made up of physicians, surgeons, nurses, dietitians, social workers, child life activity therapists and advanced practice nurses.