Scott & White pediatric oncologist helps to debunk myths about childhood cancers When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a scary and uncertain time. And when parents or family members buy-in to myths about cancer it leaves […]
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Myths Busted: The Truth About Pediatric Cancer

by Jessa McClure on November 27, 2012

in Medical Information

Scott & White pediatric oncologist helps to debunk myths about childhood cancers

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a scary and uncertain time. And when parents or family members buy-in to myths about cancer it leaves them feeling responsible for their child’s illness or like they could have done something to prevent it.

But the truth is that most of these perceptions about pediatric cancer aren’t true, and it’s important for families to know all of the facts so they are better able to handle a cancer diagnosis.

Scott & White pediatric oncologist, Melissa R. Delario, MD, helps to debunk some of these cancer myths to ease the minds of worried parents and educate family members who will be supporting the cancer patient.

Myth: A cancer diagnosis means my child will get really sick and probably die.

Where it comes from: “People remember their 80-year-old grandfather who had lung cancer and who was in the hospital all of the time and was very sick,” Dr. Delario said. “What you have to remember is that he also had 80 years of accumulating all kinds of other diseases and problems.”

The Truth: Most kids who are diagnosed with cancer are otherwise healthy. They tend to handle chemotherapy and treatments better than adults. And although it differs on the type of cancer the child has, the vast majority children will be able to survive their cancer.

In fact, the five-year survival rate for childhood cancers increased from 58.1 percent to 78.1percent over the past three decades, according the National Cancer Institute.

“And kids still just want to be kids, so they don’t have a lot of the kind of emotional reaction to cancer that adults might,” the pediatric oncologist said. “They tend to want to keep playing and going to school and doing regular kid stuff, even if they are getting treatment.”

Myth: My child is sick because I did something wrong or failed to prevent illness.

Where it comes from: Believing that you did something wrong comes from simply not knowing or not being educated about pediatric cancer and its causes.

The Truth: “We have a lot of families that think mom or dad did something wrong when raising the child or when mom was pregnant, or that they were exposed to toxins or environmental hazards the family could have avoided,” Dr. Delario said. “But most of the time, doctors don’t know what has caused the cancer.”

Childhood cancers are largely still a mystery to doctors. While studies are being completed all of the time to help determine factors that could contribute to pediatric cancer, there’s no evidence to suggest that parents are to blame.

Myth: Childhood cancer is contagious and other people can catch it.

Where it comes from: Lack of education about cancer and its properties can sometimes create irrational fears among parents, family members and even neighbors when a child is diagnosed with a serious illness.

The Truth: There is no evidence that suggests that a healthy person can catch cancer from another person. The cancer cells can’t live inside of a healthy person because their immune system will destroy them, according to the American Cancer Society.

So, it is safe for your child to be around other children. However, germs from healthy children could cause illness in an immune-compromised child who is undergoing cancer treatments. So, it is wise to check with your doctor before allowing your child to return to a public environment.

How does Scott & White provide support for parents of pediatric cancer patients?

“Our pediatric oncology clinics function in a multidisciplinary fashion where we have physicians, nurses, social workers and child life specialists that are all there to medically take care of kids, but also psycho-socially support them as well,” Dr. Delario said. “Everyone kind of brings their own expertise to the table.”

This team of medical professionals can offer anything from printed handouts about cancer treatments to age-appropriate explanations from child life specialists so the pediatric cancer patient knows what’s going on with his or her own body.

What advice would you give to parents or families who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis?

The biggest thing, Dr. Delario said, is to not believe everything you read.

“I say to my patients, especially the teenagers, I know you’re going to be reading things on the Internet. If you see anything that’s confusing or scary or different from what we tell you, then you should come and talk to me about it.”

With instant access to information, families can sometimes experience information overload, and not know what to believe.

“Families are going to be getting information other places—even through TV commercials,” she said. “It’s important to have constant communication with them to address [questions] as they arise.”

If you have questions about pediatric cancer or your child’s diagnosis, contact your child’s pediatric oncologist or find additional resources at cancer.org.

Have you ever heard these cancer myths? Do you feel more informed about pediatric cancer?

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