More needs to be done to tackle child cancer

Most survivors face treatment side-effects
  • Deborah Condon

Major progress has been made in the area of childhood cancer, however much more needs to be done, experts have insisted.

While cancer among children is rare, it is the biggest cause of death by disease in children aged one and over in Europe, with around 6,000 deaths per year.

Among survivors, two in three will suffer with side-effects related to their treatment and currently, around 300,000 people living in Europe are paediatric cancer survivors.

According to a new report by SIOPE, the European Society for Paediatric Oncology, huge progress has been made in this area. However because there is a high cure rate among young patients with cancer, some people, including politicians, do not view it as a major issue and believe that resources should be concentrated on cancer prevention in adults.

"Major progress, both current and expected, in understanding paediatric tumour biology through high throughput technologies becoming more widely available will help us to develop effective targeted therapies.

"However, In addition to the side-effects of treatment, five years after diagnosis these survivors still have a risk of death that is higher than that of the general population. This is a serious problem for patients, their families, and for health services, with major inequalities existing across Europe," commented SIOPE president, Prof Gilles Vassal, of the Institut Gustave Roussy in France.

He said that this report is important because around one-third of childhood cancers occur in children younger than five years of age and many paediatric cancers are difficult to treat, making it ‘essential to tackle this problem in a practical way'.

"The SIOPE report sets out the plans of the European Community of Paediatric Haematology Oncology to improve both the cure rate and the quality of life for survivors of childhood cancers over the forthcoming 10 years, with the ultimate aim of increasing disease-free and late-effect free survival," Prof Vassal explained.

In fact, improving the quality of life of survivors is key because it is estimated that by 2020, there will be almost 500,000 paediatric cancer survivors living in Europe, many of whom will experience side-effects that impact on their daily lives.

"While the fact that so many survive is a cause for rejoicing, we have a duty to provide them with optimal long-term care so that the rest of their lives may be as normal as possible.

"One way of doing this would be the creation of a ‘survivorship passport' for each child and adolescent cured of a cancer. This would contain a history of their disease and treatment together with relevant follow-up measures aimed at improving their quality of life, and a database for storing the clinical data and hence facilitate monitoring and research," said SIOPE president-elect, Prof Martin Schrappe, of the University of Kiel in Germany.

The report was drawn up after widespread consultation with experts, patients and their parents.

"We are proud to have achieved consensus on the important steps that need to be taken to tackle the issue of childhood cancer in Europe. Through setting specific and obtainable objectives, strengthening collaborations, and establishing funding partnerships, we believe that we will be able to make a real difference to the lives of paediatric cancer survivors," Prof Vassal added.

The report was launched at the European Cancer Congress in Vienna


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