Despite huge advances in research, cancer is still the number one disease killing Canadian children today. 2 in every 10 Canadian children diagnosed with cancer do not survive.
Childhood cancer occurs regularly, randomly and spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class or geographic region.
Unlike adult cancers, the causes of most childhood cancers are still unknown and are not related to lifestyle and environmental risk factors.
The incidence of childhood cancer is highest in the first five years of life, between ages zero to four years old.
Advances in cancer research and treatments have significantly improved the chances of survival for children in resource-rich countries like Canada.
In Canada today, 82 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer will survive.
Survival often comes at a price. The toxicity of current cancer therapies leave 70% of children with life-long health problems. This percentage increases as they age with no apparent plateau.
30% of these health problems are severe and life-threatening.
Life-long adverse effects may include but are not limited to impaired growth and development, learning disorders, compromised heart and lung function, kidney problems, fertility issues, digestive dysfunction, musculoskeletal disorders, endocrine problems, vision and hearing impairments, psychological and neurological disorders.
Certain groups of childhood cancer survivors are also at high risk for psychological distress, neurocognitive dysfunction and poor health-related quality of life. Lower levels of education and poorer employment outcomes have also been reported among some childhood cancer survivors.
Although advances in research have improved the chances of survival, many children still die from the disease. High risk cancers, including those of the central nervous system, certain leukemias, neuroblastomas and bone cancers still have relatively low survival rates, between 31% and 7%
There is an estimated 30,000 survivors of childhood cancer living in Canada today. The late effects and life-years lost due to childhood cancer are huge. These late effects are taking their toll emotionally, socially and financially on survivors, families and the health care system.
Given the life-years lost, childhood cancer is drastically underfunded, accounting for only 3% to 5% of all cancer research funding in Canada.
Although cancer research in general has made huge strides in our lifetime, very few new drugs for children with cancer have been developed in the last 30 years. The weakest link in children’s cancer research is pediatric drug discovery.
There is hope. With collaboration and support from government, industry, universities, hospitals, research institutes and individual and corporate donors, we can change this. We can find a cure for all cancers and all children.