September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Officially recognized in 2019, this is a month dedicated to raising awareness of childhood cancer, celebrating the advances in cancer research and treatment, and honoring the children lost to this disease. If you work in pediatric oncology, focusing on cancers in infants, children, and teenagers, this month may be marked by workplace events designed to raise cancer awareness or events that involve doing something extra special for young patients receiving treatment.
For pediatric nurses who already work with children daily, specializing in oncology enables you to provide much-needed support and comfort to children experiencing some of the most difficult moments of their lives. In this blog post, we’ll explore the increase in childhood cancers and what role you can play as a nurse. Keep reading to learn more, particularly if you’re considering specializing in oncology or chemo-infusion within pediatric settings.
Increase in Childhood Cancer Rates
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 400,000 children and adolescents globally develop cancer every year. In the US, about 15,000 children under 19 years old are diagnosed with cancer annually, making it the number one disease causing death in the country.
According to the American Cancer Society, of the approximately 15,000 children diagnosed with cancer annually, approximately 9,910 children are under 15, and around 5,280 children are between the ages of 15 and 19.
The most common types of cancers in children include the following:
- Brain cancers
- Lymphomas (including Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphomas)
- Solid tumors, such as Wilms tumor and neuroblastoma
Of the children under 15 diagnosed with cancer, 28 percent are diagnosed with leukemia, 26 percent are diagnosed with brain cancer, and 12 percent with lymphomas. For teens aged 15 to 19, however, brain cancer is more common, accounting for 21 percent of diagnoses, followed by lymphoma at 19 percent, leukemia at 13 percent, throat cancers at 12 percent, and melanoma at 3 percent.
Childhood cancer has unfortunately been on a steady incline. Studies show that from the 1980s to the 1990s, there was an increase of 37 percent in childhood cancer in the US, accounting for an increase of 3 percent every year. This study revealed that “the rising childhood cancer rate represents a far more serious problem in the United States than previous reports have suggested.”
In New York, from 1976 to 2013, the incidence rate of childhood cancers increased by approximately 60 percent, according to the New York State Department of Health. These rising figures have inspired various childhood cancer awareness campaigns across the country.
The good news, however, is that survival rates from childhood cancer are increasing. In the last 40 years, there’s been an increase from 10 percent to 85 percent in the overall survival rate—although these rates depend on factors including the type of cancer.
Which Nurses Work with Cancer Patients?
An oncology nurse is a nurse who works with patients who have cancer or are at risk of getting cancer. In this role, oncology nurses may provide assessments, administer treatments, and communicate with other healthcare providers to develop a suitable plan for the patient.
A pediatric oncology nurse provides specialized nursing services to children diagnosed with cancer, and their responsibilities, similar to those of oncology nurses, may include performing assessments, administering medications and chemotherapy, monitoring symptoms, and educating caregivers about diagnoses, quality care, and treatment.
A chemo-infusion nurse’s main role entails providing oncology treatments and nursing care. If you’re considering becoming a chemo-infusion nurse for kids, your responsibilities may include performing assessment and triage, providing direct care—such as administering chemotherapy or other oncology treatments—and managing side effects.
Psychosocial Challenges of Pediatric Oncology Nursing
While nursing can be a gratifying profession, it also has its challenges, including working long shifts, standing on your feet all day, and potentially facing violence against nurses. For many nurses, these challenges also include the emotional toll that comes with interacting closely with patients who are experiencing devastating medical diagnoses or grieving the loss of patients.
Aspiring pediatric oncology nurses and chemo-infusion nurses should consider the reality of confronting the emotional toll these roles can have. One study shows that caring for cancer patients can be distressing and stressful for oncology nurses. Additional research reveals that compassion fatigue and nurse burnout are frequently experienced as psychosocial consequences of working in oncology. According to one study, oncology nurses encounter daily stress, demands, and challenges in their workplace. Since oncology nurses perceive that some of the patients they are managing with terminal illnesses may die soon, this contributes to increased stress and fatigue levels. Additionally, working in oncology leads to an “exposure to a cumulative level of trauma,” the study stated.