Friday January 31, 2014
The American Cancer Society released its annual “Cancer Facts & Figures” report today, and for the first time it includes a special section devoted to statistics about the prevalence of childhood and adolescent cancers. According to the report, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents between birth and 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 children in that age range will die from cancer this year. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in children. A cancer diagnosis for anyone is shattering news, but the thought of a child getting cancer is especially heartbreaking.
The report documents that much progress has been made against certain types of pediatric cancers. In fact, death rates for all childhood and adolescent cancers combined have declined steadily by an average of 2.1 percent per year since 1975, and there have been substantial improvements in survival rates for many types of childhood cancer due to improved treatment and supportive care.
However, the report illustrates that while gains have been made overall, this may mask the fact that progress against some childhood cancers has been lacking. In the last two decades, only two new drugs have been specifically developed to treat children with cancer, and two-thirds of childhood cancer patients endure significant long term effects from treatment. Devastatingly, some childhood cancers have no treatment options at all and remain incurable. For example, the median survival time for a patient diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) remains less than one year. Targeted research is required to develop safe, less harmful and more effective treatments tailored specifically to children’s cancers.
ACS CAN supports two bills before Congress that would expand research into childhood cancers and care:
- The Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Reauthorization Act would help to expand research of childhood cancers by supporting the growth of biorepositories (banking of specimens for future research) for childhood cancers, authorizing grants for state cancer registries to expand tracking of childhood and adolescent cancers and initiating a study on pediatric drug development.
- The Childhood Cancer Survivors’ Quality of Life Act would provide resources for research and survivorship programs to improve the quality of life of childhood cancer survivors, increase access to the long-term comprehensive health care services they need and enhance their understanding of the long-term effects of treatment.
ACS CAN is also working to pass legislation that improves the quality of life for all people with cancer – at any age and any stage – as well as their families, through improved access to palliative care services. Two bills introduced in Congress this spring would address the deficit in palliative care training offered in the nation’s medical schools and expand palliative care research, access and public awareness so more adults and children living with a serious illness can benefit from this extra layer of support that is essential to providing quality care.
Palliative care is especially important for survivors of childhood cancer, who often experience life-long complications from their treatment. I encourage you to read the enlightening piece the New Yorker recently published on the benefits of pediatric palliative care to children and how palliative care can help children and families avoid or cope with some of these long-term difficulties.
Much more work must be done to address the needs of children with cancer and their families. We must strive to ensure that all children have access to the care they need to survive and thrive. It’s up to all of us in the cancer community to work to reduce the cancer burden on our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable.