International Childhood Cancer Day

February 15 is International Children’s Cancer Day (ICCD), which aims to raise awareness of the disease and the need for every child with cancer in the world to have access to appropriate diagnosis and treatment, and to show support for children and adolescents with cancer, survivors, and their families.

Cancer is a disease in which some cells in the body grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Under normal conditions, human cells form and multiply to make new cells to meet the body’s needs. As cells age or become damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells. Sometimes the process does not follow this order, and abnormal or damaged cells form and multiply when they should not. These cells can form tumors. Tumors are either cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Cancerous tumors spread (or invade) nearby tissues. They can also travel farther to other parts of the body and form tumors, a process called metastasis.

Cancer affects people of all ages and can occur in any part of the body. Unlike adult cancers, the causes of the vast majority of childhood cancers are unknown. Many studies have been done to try to determine them, but at this age there are very few cancers caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. In addition, current data suggest that about 10% of children with cancer have a genetic predisposition. For all these reasons, more research is needed to understand the factors that influence the development of childhood cancer.

Each year, more than 400,000 children are diagnosed with cancer worldwide, and it is estimated that cancer will be the cause of death for 8,544 children under the age of 15 in 2020. In Spain, according to the Cancer Observatory report, around 1,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in patients under the age of 14. The most common types of childhood cancer are leukemia, brain cancer, lymphoma, and solid tumors such as neuroblastoma and Wilms’ tumor. Hematologic and central nervous system tumors are the most common, and it is estimated that approximately 50% of children under the age of 15 with cancer have leukemia or lymphoma.

Although much progress has been made in diagnosis and treatment, cancer remains the leading cause of childhood death in developed countries. The likelihood that a child will survive a cancer diagnosis depends on the country in which he or she lives: mortality is relatively low, with 5-year survival rates approaching 80% in high-income countries and reaching 100% for some specific tumor types, but in many low- and middle-income countries less than 30% are cured. These lower survival rates in low- and middle-income countries can be explained by late diagnosis, inaccurate diagnosis, lack of access to treatment, discontinuation of treatment, death due to toxicity (side effects of drugs), and preventable relapse.

Survival rates have improved in recent years. However, given the complexity of current therapeutic procedures, children with cancer should be referred as soon as possible to centers with specialized human and technical resources, where they will be treated by personnel trained in pediatric onco-hematology. For this reason, it is essential that parents and health professionals be aware of the first signs and symptoms and be alert to act when they occur.

Every child with cancer has the right to live a relatively normal life, with access to education, play and, of course, appropriate treatment to manage the disease. However, the reality is different for many of these children, especially those who live in conditions of extreme poverty, where their families and the country where they live cannot offer them any of these guarantees. This is why, in September 2018, the World Health Organization launched the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, which aims to address these profound inequalities. The goal is to achieve at least 60% survival for children with cancer by 2030 and to reduce suffering for all.

All children with cancer have the right to the best diagnosis and treatment.

All children with cancer have the right to access the best diagnosis and treatment in hospitals with specialized units to maximize the chances of success. Home care and palliative care units are also necessary to improve the quality of life throughout the course of the disease. Therefore, it is still necessary to invest more in research programs so that science can find the true cause of this disease, and as a society, we must all do our part to change the lives and dreams of every child with cancer.

There are many ways to celebrate International Childhood Cancer Day. You can get in touch with one of the organizations dedicated to visiting these children to bring a smile or a word of encouragement to them and their families. You can also make a financial contribution through one of these organizations or foundations so that more children and young people can continue to benefit and receive treatment. What are you waiting for? Place your grain of sand!