Childhood Cancer Awareness / by Jennifer Kelly
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 11:30

As we mentioned in our last blog, childhood cancer survival rates are improving overall, but more so in some areas than others. Researchers and doctors have worked so hard to achieve this progress however, and we must not forget that. 

However, we are also trying to explain where improvements so desperately need to still be made

When a child is diagnosed, parents cling to the survival rates. Understandably, every parent (including myself) is desperate that their child would be in the 82% that are still alive at 5 years.

These children are the successes quoted by consultants and charities and give hope to others. But what does this really this really mean?

We touched on this in one of our earlier blogs. It means simply that the child is still alive at 5 years. They may be doing well or sadly be severely disabled, or be under palliative care, but they are still quoted in success rates.

So what happens after the magic 5 years?

Lets have a look at some of the information about what happens to the children that are the success stories. Remember, this is average survival data across all cancer types (from 99% 5 year survival for retinoblastoma to 0% for DIPG brain tumours).

Below is a graph looking at survival rates, as you can see there are a number of children that are alive at 5 years that do not make it to the 10 years post diagnosis.

Average 10 year survival is 76%, so for every 100 children diagnosed with cancer, effectively a quarter (24) will not make it past 10 years.

What about 30 years after diagnosis?

This may sound a long time, but bear in mind that these individuals will still only be between 30 and 44 years of age at this point. Effectively, when their peers are pursuing careers, getting married and having families. 

If you take 100 children diagnosed with cancer and look at them 30 years after diagnosis. By this point:

     - 34 have died

     - 19 are alive but severely disabled or have life threatening

       problems

     - 25 are alive with mild or moderate chronic health problems

Just 22 out of the 100 children will be alive and well.

A worrying statistic, and so very different to the 82% 5 year survival rates that are quoted so freely.

This is what we need to remember and why we are fighting for change.

Some of the problems that childhood cancer survivors may face in later life.

Here are some of the more common problems that childhood cancer survivors may face:

   - thyroid dysfunction

   - heart problems including cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle

   - metabolic syndrome (problems with weight gain, blood pressure and metabolism

   - psychological problems - depression or post traumatic stress. This can be a huge

                                         problem in survivors, along with problems socialising

                                         due to time missed from school etc

   - fertility issues

   - bone problems, including and increased risk of early osteoporosis

   - graft versus host disease following transplants

   - an increased risk of developing other cancers anywhere in

     the body. The treatments used for treating cancer (eg radiation) actually increase

     the risk of a person developing another type.

Some of the problems that childhood cancer survivors may face in later life

 

Here are some of the more common problems that childhood cancer survivors may face:

   - thyroid dysfunction

   - heart problems including cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle

   - metabolic syndrome (problems with weight gain, blood pressure and metabolism

   - psychological problems - depression or post traumatic stress. This can be a huge

                                         problem in survivors, along with problems socialising

                                         due to time missed from school etc

   - fertility issues

   - bone problems, including and increased risk of early osteoporosis

   - graft versus host disease following transplants

   - an increased risk of developing other cancers anywhere in   the body. The treatments used for treating cancer (eg radiation) actually         increase  the risk of a person developing another type.

What can we do to help?

1)   Drug development: increased funding - (this is why we are fundraising) and  changes to legislation to make trialling drugs in children easier and more attractive to drugs companies.

2)  Improved awareness of the signs and symptoms at presentation amongst parents and clinicians. Earlier diagnosis will save lives and has been shown to  reduce the incidence of disability in survivors.

If there is one thing we can remember, be aware of the signs and symptoms.