Every year, around 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK. 1 in every 285 children and young people receive this devastating diagnosis before their 19th birthday.
A child who dies of cancer loses on average 71 years of their expected life compared to 15 years for an adult diagnosed with cancer. This is why we need to fight for our children.
Survival rates have been improving for some cancers over the past 20- 30 years but there has been limited progress for some solid tumours (see last blog, Childhood cancer, the forgotten children).
Why is this?
In our post, we touched on lack of funding as being a major cause.
This is very true, but the full reason is more complicated. We will explain below.
The discovery and development of new drugs in general presents huge challenges and risks. The challenge is even greater when developing drugs for children that have a diagnosis of cancer.
Due to the relatively small numbers of children with each cancer type (compared to adults), there is little encouragement or incentive for the drug development industry to invest in this area.
If there are fewer individuals that could benefit from a treatment, there is effectively going to be less profit or sustainability for a drugs company. This means that sadly childhood cancer is not attractive to drug companies to invest in.
As such, just 3 drugs that were specifically designed for childhood cancer have ever been licensed. A chilling thought.
This slide was produced by Solving Kid's Cancer, Europe.
Just 3 drugs licensed EVER specifically for childhood cancers, compared to 77 drugs in the last 6 years for adult cancers.
There is just no comparison - you can see what we are up against here.
The problem is not just due to funding, but also due to the fact that drug research in children is slow and risky compared to adults. There are also far more restrictions on trials in children compared to trials in adults.
It is this that we, as part of Unite2cure have been helping to lobby for changing legislation over the past months to make it harder for drugs companies to avoid developing and testing treatments that may be useful in children.
What else can we do?
As well as increased funding, we need to ensure that the funds are spent in the correct way. A lot of emphasis on research up until now has been mainly academic.
What this means is most research has concentrated on research into the molecular make up of childhood cancer (what makes it happen, and changes within cancer cells) rather than actually how to treat it.
The research grant that the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust has recently invited applications for is specifically for research into accurate diagnosis and treatment of solid tumour types for this reason. This is rather than further research into molecular make up. We need research to translate into kinder and more effective treatments for our children.
Generally however, research won't translate into new medicines that have been approved for use in children until research in this area is made more attractive for drugs companies. Hopefully in time we can help fight for this legislation to be changed.
This is the way that the future of childhood cancer can be changed.
In the mean time
Help us change the outcomes of childhood cancer in the future through raising awareness, fundraising and education of the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. Early diagnosis saves lives and reduce disability in survivors. This is also so important.
Please do order our awareness cards for your school, childcare settings, local hospital and GP surgeries by emailing [email protected]
You really could make a difference by becoming involved