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16/09/2021

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

The Irish Cancer Society has resources and peer support for affected families

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and many families across Ireland are all too aware of the challenges that childhood cancer brings.

The Irish Cancer has put together information and resources to support families through this difficult time. 

Among the services the organisation offers is a peer to peer support line where all volunteers are parents who have had children who have been treated for cancer. 

The Irish Cancer Society’s website cancer.ie has information to help parents who are coming to terms with the overwhelming news that their child has cancer. It also has helpful information on what to expect from treatment, and with coping practically and emotionally during and after treatment.

Another important focus of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is to raise awareness of a number of types of cancer 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 faulty cells to grow and multiply in the body.

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

In Ireland, around 170 children and teenagers under the age of 15 are affected by children’s cancers each year, according to the Irish Cancer Society. 

Children's cancer tends to occur in different parts of the body to adult cancers. 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 out of ten children in Ireland will survive cancer for five years or more. 

Anyone who would like 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 Freephone 1800 200 700. They can also email supportline@irishcancer.ie

Most Common Childhood Cancers

Leukaemia which is a cancer of the white blood cells which help fight infection. This accounts for one in every three childhood cancers in Ireland. The two main types of leukaemia are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia(AML).

Brain tumours refer to cancer that causes a lump 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 bone. They include soft tissue sarcomas, rhabdomyosarcoma and bone tumours, such as Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma.

Germ cell tumour 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 which helps blood to clot, breaks down fats and carbohydrates from food and gets rid of harmful substances from our body. The most common types of malignant tumours in the liver are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Neuroblastoma is cancer that affects nerve cells called neuroblasts. It occurs either 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 tumour in the eye. 

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

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

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