At least 720 children in the world are diagnosed with cancer every day. Seven out of eight will survive thanks to research conducted at teaching centers like Children’s Hospital of Michigan that make it their goal to change outcomes for everyone.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and there is a great need to fund more cancer research for even better outcomes, says Jeffrey W. Taub, M.D., chief of pediatric oncology at Children’s Hospital and a survivor of childhood cancer.
He notes that less than 5 percent of the federal government’s total funding is dedicated to kids and cancer, making it more imperative for the community to support research efforts through groups such as Kids Without Cancer, Cure Search and other organizations. (The Detroit CureSearch Walk is this weekend on the Detroit riverfront.)
Thanks to clinical trials and years of research, children have a far better chance of leading somewhat normal lives while undergoing cancer treatment. Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which struck Taub at age 15, left him exhausted and nauseated yet determined to make a difference for others. At that time only half the kids treated for cancer would survive.
Today anti-nausea drugs have been developed to help kids cope with the ugly downside of chemotherapy. The outcomes have reached an 80-percent recovery rate on many cancers. The staff that now surrounds each patient includes social workers and therapists for psycho-social support. Even the clinic rooms are updated with comfortable chairs and bright furnishings.
Childhood cancer occurs regularly, randomly and spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class or geographic region in the US. The pediatrician’s dedicated team of doctors, nurses, researchers, pharmacists and social worker includes more than 60 people at Children’s in Detroit and the new hospital in Troy.
Their ranks are augmented by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which establishes protocols and helps guide some research projects at Children’s and at select teaching hospitals around the country.
New research is being conducted with zebra fish, according to Taub. Their skin is translucent, which lets observers see the growth of tumors and the responses to treatment and they reproduce prolifically. That means anti-cancer drugs can be tested by the hundreds and thousands. Remarkably, these cheap little fish share many genes with humans such as blood cell and nerve cell development.
Another problem for studying and treating childhood cancer is the availability of cancer drugs. Because childhood cancer represents only 2 percent of the cancers in America, the drug companies are less interested in finding low-cost, generic drugs to treat cancer, Taub says.
Studies conducted by St. Jude hospital found the lack of available cancer drugs for children meant worse outcomes for some patients, more therapy-related complications and higher costs. Scarcity drives up prices and requires more staff to manage the problem, according St. Jude. The problem continues.
One of the best ways to address research at Children’s Hospital is through Kids Without Cancer, Taub says. “We need to do more. Every dollar goes to help kids grow up,” he says.
The dollars go to fund pediatric research done at Children’s, Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute. It is the largest contributor of funds to pediatric cancer research at Children’s.
“The organization was founded by a small group of concerned parents with one thing in common – they had children in cancer treatment at Children’s Hospital of Michigan,” according to its website.
One of the children who benefited from research and treatment at Children’s was Taub. He says his reward is seeing children he has treated lead healthy lives.
“You can’t fix cancer on the spot. You need to understand delayed rewards. Yet nothing is more satisfying than seeing kids grow up healthy. My wall is full of pictures of recovering patients,” he says.
Contact Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s Hematology/Oncology Department at 313-745-5515 for more ways to get involved.
- Top picture is of Nurse Katherine, patient Ainsley from Marquette, and Dr. Taub. All pictures are courtesy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan.