More children survive cancer but the after-effects present a challenge to doctors

Copenhagen, Denmark: The number of children who survive childhood cancer is improving dramatically, but because of the side effects of their treatment the majority continue to need specialist care for many years. This rapid increase in the numbers of survivors means that the medical profession must consider the best and most cost-effective way of caring for them, according to Jill Mann, Professor of Paediatric Oncology at the University of Birmingham, and Emeritus Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at the Birmingham Children's Hospital in the UK.

Prof. Mann told delegates at ECCO12 The European Cancer Conference that a study of 5,016 children*, aged 14 and under, who were diagnosed with cancer between 1960 and 1999, showed that five-year survival for all cancers increased from 23% in the 1960s to 70% in the 1990s. In 1970 98 children had survived their disease for five years or more, but by 2000 the number of survivors had increased to 1,747, and by 2005 the number is expected to exceed 2,100.

About a third of the children had been diagnosed with leukaemia, a quarter with brain tumours, and the rest with a wide range of other solid tumours. They had been treated with one or a combination of therapies: 5% had surgery alone, 55% radiotherapy and 85% chemotherapy. However these treatments had caused side effects that required long-term follow-up, said Prof. Mann.

"It is a mixture of good and bad news," she said. "The number of patients surviving beyond five years has increased substantially from the 1960s to the 1990s, but the majority of patients have some form of side effect from their treatment and/or their illness, which requires medical intervention. For example, the majority of children who had leukaemia received cranial irradiation as part of their treatment which, in some of them, has produced under-activity of the pituitary gland leading to reduced growth hormone production, reduction in overall height and a tendency to obesity and

Contact: Emma Mason
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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