Eight out of 10 children with childhood cancer now survive the disease

Forty years ago the chances of surviving conditions including leukaemia, brain cancer and lymphoma were poor, and a diagnosis was considered little better than a death sentence among parents and many doctors.

Just over a quarter (28 per cent) survived to see adulthood.

But thanks to advances in treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy the statistics have swung the other way.

Seventy-eight per cent now survive for at least five years from diagnosis, widely considered the point at which the ‘all-clear’ is given.

The death rate from all childhood cancers has dropped by almost 60 per cent, according to figures from Cancer Research UK.

Between 1966 and 1970 it was 73.4 per million; while between 2001 and 2005 it was 31.9 per million.

When individual classes of childhood cancer are examined the turnaround is even more dramatic.

Among leukaemias – cancers of the blood, that account for almost a third of childhood cancers – the five-year survival rate has increased from nine per cent to more than 80 per cent.

Among brain tumours – the second most common class of childhood cancer, accounting for a quarter of them – the rate has risen from less than 40 per cent to about 70 per cent.

But not all cancers have seen such improvements. For example, the five-year survival rate for certain gliomas – a type of brain tumour – is only 44 per cent.

Dr Pam Kearns, director of the Cancer Research UK Children’s Cancer Trials Team, said: “More children are beating cancer thanks to the transformation and improvements of treatments over the last 30 years, with ways of treating the disease offering greater hope to children diagnosed with cancer.

“We need to continue this work so that every child who is diagnosed with cancer has the best possible chance of beating the disease.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “These new figures show that years of hard work by researchers across the world are paying off.

“Cancer Research UK is the largest single funder of research into childhood cancers in the UK, spending over £9 million every year. This research will lead to even more success stories for children diagnosed with cancer in the future.”

Cancer among children is mercifully rare, with about 30 new diagnoses every week in Britain. However, besides the impact on the health and wellbeing of the child, the impact on the family can be severe.

Dara de Burca, Director of Services at the childhood cancer charity CLIC Sargent, said:

“To be told that your child has cancer is always a huge shock, but the news that almost eight out of ten children who are diagnosed now survive – thanks to research into treatment and causes – gives parents real hope and reassurance.

“But surviving childhood cancer doesn’t mean that life goes back to normal. As well as potential long-term health issues, children may have missed or fallen behind at school, lost touch with friends, and their whole family has had their lives turned upside down.”

Medics are still grappling with one side-effect of otherwise successful intensive anti-cancer treatments – that they can rob children of their future fertility. According to fertility experts one in 250 young adults in the US is now a childhood cancer survivor.

Source: The Telegraph

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