Shaving for a Cause

A Professor's Perspective On Current Events

Pediatric cancer is more common than you might think. Every year in the United States about 16,000 kids (birth to age 19) get cancer—that means 1 in 285 people will be diagnosed with cancer during their childhood. That’s a lot of children and families affected.

Post written by Dr. Roy Benaroch
Image of Professor Roy Benaroch. M.D.
Professor Roy Benaroch, M.D.

In some ways, the statistics are encouraging. The rates of pediatric cancers haven’t changed much over the last 40 to 50 years—but the survival rates have improved dramatically. Overall, there’s an 80% survival rate at 5 years after diagnosis and treatment. Many types of childhood cancer, however, have a poor prognosis; there’s a great variability in survival rates per type of cancer.

And, unfortunately, the treatment can be very difficult. The goal of treating most pediatric cancers is a cure, which means that the treatment itself—surgery, chemo, radiation—is more aggressive than the treatment for adult cancer. Two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors struggle with health problems related to their cancer or to the treatment. So, there’s still a lot of progress to be made in the health care field of treating pediatric cancer.

The funding for pediatric cancer research is far less than what you might expect. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for adult cancer research was $5.6 billion in 2009; for pediatric cancer research, it’s probably in the range of $30 million a year.

Pediatric cancer research needs better funding. The medical community has already shown that better treatment leads to dramatically better outcomes, but we need to keep making progress. Greater public awareness of the need for research can support both charitable giving by individuals and better support for pediatric cancer among foundations; endowments; and large, national cancer organizations.

That’s why my daughter and I have shaved our heads in participation with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is a charity committed to supporting research for finding cures for childhood cancers and committed to giving survivors long and healthy lives. It might seem like a silly sort of stunt—and in a way, it is—but it draws attention to the issue of pediatric cancer in a uniquely pediatric way. We had fun during the fund-raising effort and we had fun with the kids. We also helped in a serious way; we raised over $3,000 while helping to improve the lives of children.

To learn more about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation click here. To learn more about topics such as medicine, health, and medical school, check out Dr. Benaroch’s courses on The Great Courses Plus.