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Boost in childhood cancer survival rates

23rd July 2012
Boost in childhood cancer survival rates

More children are surviving cancer in Britain than ever before according to new research published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

This is due to more children taking part in clinical trials since 1977 when the UK Children's Cancer Study Group (now CCLG - Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group) was formed. The principal aim was to set up a portfolio of national and international trials for the majority of children's cancers. Only 28% of children diagnosed with cancer between 1966-1970 survived for five years. By 2005, this had increased dramatically to 79%.

The greatest improvements were seen in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), germ cell tumours and hepatoblastoma (a rare liver tumour).

Study author Charles Stiller, from University of Oxford's Childhood Cancer Research Group and CCLG member, said: "The results of our study show that improvements in childhood cancer survival match those reported by the relevant clinical trials running between 1978 and 2005.

"During this time there has been an increasing level of participation in trials, with around 90% of all children with many types of cancer enrolled, and this has been facilitated by the organisation of care into specialist children's cancer units.

Study author Kathy Pritchard-Jones, paediatric oncologist at University College London and GOS and CCLG member, said: "The key message is that clinical trials are good for you if you are a cancer patient. Taking part in clinical trials is considered best practice for most newly-diagnosed childhood cancers now. This study shows how the increase in the proportion of children taking part in trials has gone hand in hand with improvements in survival.

"It also emphasises the importance of doctors working together to take the leadership role to make sure clinical trials and access to new treatments are available for children with cancer."

Prof Pritchard-Jones said: "If no trial is available it may not have an immediate efffect on survival. However, if that situation were to persist for many years, one would predict that the rate of improvement of survival would cease and children in the UK would no longer be receiving 'cutting edge' treatment at the international forefront of innovative thinking. There is still a great need for this in many, if not all childhood cancers, due to the toxicity of the treatment, its propensity to cause side effects later in life, and the fact that we still don't cure everyone." 



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