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Childhood Cancer

The facts

Childhood cancer kills more children than any other disease in Australia.

In Australia every week 3 children and adolescents die because of childhood cancer. Each death represents at least 65 years of life lost from normal life expectancy.

Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with childhood cancer every 2 minutes.

Childhood Cancer is different to adult cancer

The Zero Childhood Cancer program is essential because childhood cancer has different causes to adult cancer and occurs in different forms to adult cancers.

In addition, large pharmaceutical companies focus their research on drug discoveries for the larger adult cancer market with very little investment in research of childhood cancers.

Types of Childhood Cancer

Some of the cancer types that the Zero Childhood Cancer program will initially focus on include:

Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumour in early childhood, with average age of diagnosis two years old. Most patients present with advanced disease that responds poorly to conventional therapies. Neuroblastoma claims more lives of children under the age of five than any other cancer.

Sarcomas

Sarcoma is cancer of soft tissue (such as muscle), connective tissue (such as tendon or cartilage), or bone. Sarcomas are among the more common types of solid tumour in childhood, comprising 20% of cancers in children and up to 10% in young adults. Two in five patients with sarcoma will go on to die from their disease.

Leukaemias

Leukaemia is the most common cancer in children, accounting for about one third of all malignancies. Leukaemia does not form a solid tumour like other childhood cancers. It is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, where large numbers of abnormal white blood cells (lymphocytes) accumulate and circulate in the body.

Brain Cancers

Two common types of brain cancer occurring in children are medulloblastoma and glioma. The most common high-grade glioma is Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). DIPG is the most aggressive and devastating of all childhood malignancies.

A cure is not enough

In Australia, an estimated one in 900 young adults aged between 16 and 45 years is a survivor of childhood cancer. Unfortunately, while more children are surviving childhood cancer than in the past, many go on to develop one or more life-altering chronic health conditions such as infertility, neurocognitive deficits, short stature, hearing or vision loss and low-grade second cancers.

Health problems that develop as a result of childhood cancer and its treatment often only become evident over time as the child grows, matures and ages. This is why the Zero Childhood Cancer program is so important - to find safe and better treatments for all children and ultimately a cure.

Incidence

Each year, 950 children and adolescents in Australia – and 175,000 children worldwide – are diagnosed with cancer.

Incidence is higher in boys (average of 337 per year vs 282 for girls). Almost half of childhood cancers are diagnosed in children aged 0–4.

Mortality

Every week, nearly three children and adolescents in Australia – and 1,800 children world- wide – die from cancer.

Survival rates

Sixty years ago, cancer was nearly always a death sentence for a child. Today, eight out of 10 children survive.

In Australia, an estimated one in 900 young adults aged between 16 and 45 years is a survivor of childhood cancer. However, up to 70 per cent of long-term survivors go on to develop one or more chronic health conditions as a result of having been treated for cancer as children.

Many survivors experience illness due to the late effects of disease and cancer-related therapies – including organ toxicity, growth and hormonal deficiencies, infertility and secondary cancers.

The disease

Individual causes remain unknown for more than 90 per cent of childhood cancer cases. Almost half of all childhood cancer begins in the womb.

The most common childhood cancers are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, brain cancer, lymphoma and neuroblastoma.

Childhood cancer does not discriminate; it can affect any child from any socioeconomic or cultural background.

Unlike many adult cancers, childhood cancer is not associated with lifestyle and nothing can be done to prevent it.

The solution

Advances in knowledge and treatment found through medical research have delivered the improved survival rates we see today. Only medical research will give hope to the tens of thousands children worldwide who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Every child is unique, every cancer is different, and so the cure has to be targeted for each individual. We believe that Zero Childhood Cancer is the key to improving survival, saving lives and giving children with cancer the best possible quality of life.


References