Providers, support groups highlight need for more funding to treat childhood cancer patients

Local News

The University of Vermont Medical Center and a local support group are marking National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by increasing awareness of the need for more federal funding for the youngest patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 10,500 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year, including about 30 children in Vermont. But Dr. Jessica Heath, pediatric hematologist and oncologist at UVMMC’s Children’s Hospital, said only 4% of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget goes toward new treatment strategies.

Heath said UVMMC treats most of the children with cancer in Vermont,, as well as a large portion of the North Country’s patients. She said childhood cancer can present itself in a variety of different ways.

“And some of those children will have symptoms of their cancer,” Dr. Heath said. “Like pain or fever or weight loss, that they may go to their primary care doctor to have evaluated.”

Survivors of childhood cancer are also at risk for a variety of long-term health complications. 

“So we do know that survivors of childhood cancer are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure,” Dr. Heath said.

The Cancer Patient Support Foundation ​serves Vermont cancer patients and their families by providing financial assistance and support during diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

“The leading cause of childhood cancer is leukemia,” said Sarah Lemnah, executive director. “Blood cancer patients are very expensive. With some patients, their copay with insurance can be up to $20,000 dollars a month.” 

Lemnah said she wants to help people through this process because of her personal experience. 

“I lost my dad to cancer,” Lemnah said. “My cousin died of leukemia when she was 14. My aunt has late stage cancer, so I have been surrounded by cancer most of my life” 

Lemnah wants people to know they are not alone. 

“And I think a lot of cancer patients particularly families with young children feel that way, they are so involved in that day to day survival mode,” Lemnah said. 

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