LONG BRANCH - June 1, 2007 — On June 26, the childhood cancer community of survivors, parents, patients, and health care providers will march in Washington D.C. for “Reach the Day: Conquer Childhood Cancer,” a national day of awareness for childhood cancer. Since the mid-1950s, research has improved the survival rates for childhood cancer from less than 10 percent to almost 80 percent overall.
Now that the outlook for children with cancer has greatly improved, a major emphasis for the past two-dozen years has been on improving the quality of life for patients cured of cancer during childhood.
"Multiple medical breakthroughs have transformed childhood cancer from a virtual death sentence into a disease that children can increasingly be expected to survive with minimal side effects in great majority of cases," says Peri Kamalakar, M.D., Medical Director of the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Children’s Hospital at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and at The Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center. "Surpassing the 80 percent survival rate is an important step toward our ultimate quest of curing all children with this disease."
According to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the largest pediatric oncology research group in the world, the definition of “cure” for children goes beyond achieving the disappearance of cancer to include psychosocial, educational, and occupational reintegration of the child into a successful life.
“Estimates show that by 2010, one of every 640 21- to 30-year-olds will be a childhood cancer survivor,” says Dr. Kamalakar, whose three Valerie Fund sites are members of the COG and participate in ongoing pediatric cancer research. “Treatment should not only control or eradicate the disease, but should, at the same time, allow the child to achieve appropriate levels of physical, social and emotional development.”
The Journey Toward Longer Life
One of the most important contributions to developing better treatments for children with cancer was the formation of a group of hospitals that agreed to cooperate in clinical trials that were organized by the National Cancer Institute. These trials led to better treatments for acute leukemia, the most common cancer among children.
National studies showed the benefits of combining surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat certain types of cancers of the kidneys and muscles, which occurred mainly in children, leading to improved outcomes.
Looking to the Future
Today, COG reports that new treatments based on immunology, bone marrow and stem cell transplantation and those derived from molecular biology and genetics are now in increasingly wider use.
This year, a landmark piece of legislation called the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2007 was introduced that will provide critical resources for the treatment, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. The Act brings hope to the more than 12,500 children who are diagnosed with cancer each year by authorizing $150 million over a five-year period to support National Cancer Institute pediatric biomedical research programs, establish a national childhood cancer registry, and enable researchers to study childhood cancers and long-term effects of treatments.
Help Close to Home
The Saint Barnabas Health Care System has three hospitals in New Jersey that are part of the Valerie Fund, one of the largest and most advanced pediatric oncology/hematology networks in the country. Because the centers are outpatient facilities located near their homes, youngsters are able to receive treatment without having to greatly alter their normal routines. Young patients receive the most advanced range of diagnostic and therapeutic treatment services from an expert team of specialists, including pediatric hematologists/oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, nurses, social workers, counselors and child life specialists.
You can reach an attending pediatric hematologist/ oncologist 24 hours a day for referrals at The Valerie Fund Children’s Center at Saint Barnabas, (973) 322-2800; at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, (973) 926-7161 and at the Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center, (732) 923-7455.
CONTACT: Beth Salamon
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