September is Children’s Cancer Awareness month in many countries, and Cancer Research UK published new figures showing the progress in treatment of cancer in children: the rate of children dying from the disease has dropped by 22% in the last decade.
According to the organization, a decade ago around 330 children in the UK died from cancer each year, but thanks to better treatments this has now dropped to around 260 each year.
Leukemia death rates almost cut in half
The steepest decline was in leukemia, the most commonly diagnosed children’s cancer, where death rates have almost halved, dropping from around 100 deaths each year to around 55.
Much of this success is due to tackling childhood cancers by combining a number of different chemotherapy drugs.
Cancer Research UK played a key role in the clinical trials that proved the benefits of these combined treatments, including a large international trial that has helped lead to liver cancer death rates falling by a quarter (26%) in the last decade.
Research to improve imaging and radiotherapy techniques is also playing its part.
“Encourging, but a lot more needs to be done” Professor Pam Kearns, director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham, said: “It’s very encouraging to see that fewer children are dying of cancer, but a lot more needs to be done. There are still a number of cancers where progress has been limited – such as brain tumors. Cancer Research UK’s long-standing commitment to clinical trials for children with cancer has been a major factor in developing today’s treatments and is pivotal to ongoing research that will offer new hope to the children and their families.
“Many children who survive cancer will live with the long-term side effects of their treatment that can have an impact throughout their adult lives, so it’s vital that we find kinder and even more effective treatments for them.”
Professor Richard Grundy, from the University of Nottingham, said: “Cancer Research UK has made clinical trials possible that have led to great improvements in treatments for childhood cancers. However, ependymoma brain tumors are exceptionally difficult to treat and survival rates remain poor.
Around 1,600 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK.
Overall survival for childhood cancer has tripled since the 1960s, and three quarters of children with cancer are now cured.