Survival Rates Improving for Some Childhood Cancers - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/28/06

Survival Rates Improving for Some Childhood Cancers

Dr. Trib Vats examines Aaron Turner. Dr. Trib Vats examines Aaron Turner.
Mary Alice and Hailey McDaniel. Mary Alice and Hailey McDaniel.

In the United States alone, 8,000 children each year are diagnosed with cancer. Sadly it's also the second-leading cause of death among children under the age of 16. While there have been some advancements in treating the different forms of childhood cancer, no cure has been found.

In some cases, the battle against leukemia and kidney cancers is almost won. But until doctors know exactly what causes cancers to occur, they'll never truly beat the disease.

Three-year-old Aaron Turner was just like any normal toddler until last June, when his mother started noticing strange bruises showing up all over his body.

"I couldn't figure out why he was bruising in his sleep," Anita Turner told us.

Covered from head to toe with a rash, and with sores lining the roof of his mouth, Aaron was rushed to the hospital, where doctors gave his family devastating news. Aaron had ALL or acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Now on his fourth round of chemotherapy, Aaron is in the fight of his life. Anita says sometimes the treatments are just as rough as the disease itself. "The last round of chemo dropped his blood counts way low, for a long time. We're still waiting for him to recover well enough to start the next round."

Hailey McDaniel is just beginning her battle with cancer. Just a month ago, the three-year-old was diagnosed with a Whilms Tumor, or cancer of the kidney. She's lost one kidney and part of her liver, and now faces months of radiation and chemotherapy.

Mary Alice McDaniel, Hailey's mom, told us, "When I found out, I got real emotional because cancer runs in our family. I was just scared for her life, for her being so young. Me and my husband, we questioned ourselves, 'Why did it have to be her?' But they say it happens for a reason."

While the number of children being diagnosed with cancer is rising, so is the number of children surviving. In the 1960s, survival from childhood cancer was less than 20 percent. Today, that rate is much higher, 75 to 80 percent.

Dr. Trib Vats has been a pediatric oncologist for 37 years, and says those increases are mainly due to advancements in treating the disease through surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and now, education.

"We tell parents what to watch for, how to manage the side effects," Dr. Vats said. "The more you educate the patient and parent, the better cure you are going to get."

And the cure rate continues to climb. In Aaron's case, children with leukemia are beating the disease 80 percent of the time. In Hailey's case, the chances of surviving a Whilms Tumor is almost 90 percent, pushing doctors that much harder to give these children a second chance at life.

"The 100 percent cure will come the day we know what causes cancer," said Dr. Vats. "But we have come a long way in giving them a cure, living a fruitful life."

While Aaron and Hailey wait for a cure, they continue to fight the disease. Both parents just pray it will be enough so one day their children will have a normal life.

"I just want her to be happy," said Mary Alice. "I want her to be healthy. I want her to be a normal kid."

Anita told us she wishes "that he will grow up, that he will fulfill the plans that God has for his life and he'll be exactly what God wants him to be."

And children are living productive lives following their cancer treatments. The chance of recurrence is also declining, because children are responding better to treatments than adults.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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