Many more children are surviving childhood cancer than ever before. In the early 1960s, three quarters of children diagnosed with cancer died but now more than three quarters survive.
Despite the advances in treatment, for children aged 1-14 years, cancer remains the most common cause of death.
However, overall, childhood cancer is rare. In the age group 0-14, around 1,600 new cases are diagnosed every year. Leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer.
Some types of the disease now have excellent survival rates. For example most children who are diagnosed with retinoblastoma now survive but other cancers have relatively low survival rates e.g. high grade astrocytoma which kills more than 80% of young patients within 5 years.
There have also been many advances in treatments with well established therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy still being used but newer therapies such as immunotherapy and stem-cell transplantation being available as well.
Immunotherapy uses the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer. Stem-cell transplantation which used to be known as bone marrow transplant helps the child by enabling them to tolerate much higher doses of chemotherapy than they could otherwise. Following the high does chemotherapy, a child is given stem cells via a drip which then migrate to the bone marrow and start to produce blood cells again.
This month is Children’s cancer Awareness month in which charities and those supporting children with cancer join together in raising the profile of what is being done to help families affected by the illness.