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Childhood cancer in Switzerland

Every year in Switzerland, some 200 to 220 children under the age of 15 develop cancer. Infants and children aged 1 to 4 account for almost half of all new diagnoses. The commonest forms of cancer in children and young people are leukaemia (33%), brain and spinal tumours such as medullablastoma (20%), Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (13%), followed by tumours of the sympathetic nervous system (7%), soft tissue sarcoma (7%), renal (5%), bone (4%) and eye cancer (3%). It is still largely unclear why the distribution of cancer types differs between children and adults. Similarly, the exact causes of childhood cancer have yet to be fully identified. 

Medical progress has continuously reduced the number of children who die of cancer. Nowadays, an average of 80% of cases can be successfully treated. Nevertheless, childhood cancer is the second biggest cause of death in children after accidents. Diagnosing and treating cancer in children and young people is an extremely traumatic process for everyone concerned, since it brings dramatic change and new pressures. The affected children and young people often have to live in hospital for months. This is a huge challenge for the patients and their parents and imposes a huge physical and psychological burden. Many patients continue to struggle with this burden and other impediments to a "normal" life in adulthood. 

Challenging situations for families

The situation is particularly challenging at the outset for families. Everyday family life has to be completely reorganized, and families obliged to make a large number of decisions for which they are not prepared in a very short time. Care has to be provided for both the sick child and siblings, and parents have to make arrangements with their employer. The situation is frequently compounded by financial worries, for example if one parent has to give up employment to look after the child with cancer. But there are other unexpected expenses too, such as travel and meal costs.

This is where parents' groups and other organizations come into play, for example by helping to pay the costs of travel between home and hospital, childcare for siblings or parking fees. In many places, private associations and foundations offer overnight accommodation, for example in a parents' flat near the hospital. Furthermore, self-help groups organize meetings, opportunities to talk to other affected people and time out for families as a way of providing a little relief from the often challenging circumstances of family life.