In the late 1960s, around 940 children died from the disease every year but this fell to around 290 a year in the latest figures available. In the late ‘60s, less than three out of 10 children survived beyond 5 years. Today, that figure is almost eight out of 10.
This good news is more marked for some types of cancer. Forty years ago less than 40 per cent of children diagnosed with a lymphoma would survive more than five years, today almost 90 per cent beat the disease.
And around 80 per cent of children are now cured through treatment for leukaemia compared to less than 10 per cent in the late 1960s.
The overall death rate dropped from 73.4 per million children between 1966 and 1970 to 31.9 per million children between 2001 and 20051 – a fall of almost 60 per cent.
This success is thanks to years of research and new treatments, many of which Cancer Research UK has played a pivotal role in.
For many years Cancer Research UK has been at the forefront of bringing a range of new treatments to the UK, saving the lives of thousands of children. Treatment advances include the shortening the interval between chemotherapy, which increased survival in children with neuroblastoma.
But, not all cancers have seen the improvements that leukaemia has. For example, five year survival is 44 per cent for certain types of gliomas – a type of brain tumour.
To continue its life saving work and help more children beat the disease, Cancer Research UK opened the Children’s Cancer Trials Team (CCTT) within the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham earlier this year. By co-ordinating national treatment trials in the UK they are playing a key role in bringing new and more effective therapies to children with cancer.
In December last year, Cancer Research UK launched a clinical trial for children with advanced neuroblastoma. This trial has brought a pioneering treatment called immunotherapy to the UK, which uses the body’s own immune system to hunt out and destroy cancer cells, helping to prevent the disease coming back.
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.”
In the UK around 1,500 children are diagnosed with cancer each year and leukaemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children. It’s estimated that there are around 26,000 childhood cancer survivors in Britain.
Rebecca McFarlane’s daughter Bonnie (10) was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2005 and took part in a trail part-funded by Cancer Research UK, called the UK ALL trial.
Rebecca, from Woking in Surrey, said: “Bonnie’s cancer was very aggressive and did not respond to regular treatment. She was entered into a clinical trial which looked at different combinations of chemotherapy for children according to how aggressive their disease was. Bonnie’s treatment lasted for just over two years and the drugs worked because in October 2007 doctors were confident enough to say that the cancer was in remission. We are so grateful for all the advances in research that have been achieved in order that children like Bonnie can receive life saving treatments.”
In February Bonnie received a Little Star Award from Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx.
Now in their eighth year, the Little Star Awards recognise the courage of children who have encountered cancer and are backed by a host of celebrities including singer Leona Lewis and footballer Ryan Giggs.
Unlike many other children’s awards, there is no judging panel because Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx believe each and every child who confronts cancer is special.
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.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to editors
1. Childhood Cancer incidence statistics are published by the National Registry of Childhood Tumours (http://www.ccrg.ox.ac.uk), which is the largest population-based childhood cancer registry in the world. The process of registering a cancer is complex and there are a number of processes in place to ensure that the data is of a high quality. This means there is usually a delay of a few years before the data is complete enough to be published.