No parent or child ever wants to hear "Your child has cancer." However, 13,500 children in the United States each year will hear these words – 100 are New Mexico's children.

One in 330 Americans will develop cancer before age 20. Because of the overall improvement in surviving childhood cancer, one in 750 age 20 or more is a cancer survivor. Due to the unique clinical, biologic and genetic features of childhood cancers, efforts to investigate and treat childhood cancer have made substantial contributions to the overall understanding of cancer biology for all patients.

It is often difficult to diagnose childhood cancer in its early stages because the signs and symptoms are relatively nonspecific and may mimic a variety of other, more common childhood disorders. The possibility of cancer should be considered when a child presents with suspicious signs and symptoms. Earlier diagnosis and referral can impact outcome.

Clinical trials and the multidisciplinary approach to childhood cancer treatment used by the Children's Oncology Group, or COG, and its more than 200 participating institutions worldwide have improved survival for children. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, the most common cancer in children, now has greater than 80 percent long-term survival.

The goal of the COG is to develop cures for childhood cancer through research. The UNM Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology and all pediatric oncologists are members of the COG. As such we have access to COG clinical trials protocols, which we utilize to treat almost all children diagnosed with childhood cancer at UNM.

The term childhood cancer could be considered a misnomer, because survivors have life-long complications. During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month we want to acknowledge the survivors and pay tribute to the deceased and their families, who have contributed to childhood cancer research by their participation in clinical trials.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month should spotlight the types of cancer that largely affect children, survivorship issues and the need to raise funds for research groups working towards cures for childhood cancer. Pediatric cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children under age 15, claiming 3,000 victims annually, but through continued efforts, childhood cancer is becoming more curable each year.

Story by Koh Boayue, Pediatric Hematologist Oncologist