In Canada, there are about 10,000 children living with cancer today. Approximately 1,300 Canadian children and youth under the age of 19 develop cancer each year and some 230 die from the disease. Death rates from childhood cancers have declined by more than 50% since the early 1950s, thanks to major advances in our ability to treat cancers common to children.
Childhood cancers differ from cancers diagnosed at older ages both in the kind of cancer and in the way they respond to treatment. The three most common childhood cancers are leukaemia (33%), central nervous system cancer (cancer of the brain or spinal cord) (20%) and lymphoma (11%).
Over the past 30 years, five-year survival from all childhood cancers has improved from 59% in the period 1973-1982 to 77% in the period 1993-2002. The survival gain has been greatest for leukaemia, rising from 46% to 80%. Much of this progress is due to improved treatment in the late 1970s of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common childhood cancer. Improved treatment for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma increased lymphoma survival from 70% to 87%. Although progress has been slower for central nervous system cancers, survival has also improved and is now 69%.
Researchers continue to work on identifying the causes of childhood cancer and to search for better treatments. Current research includes studies of gene-environment interactions in childhood leukaemia, the investigation of factors affecting the resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy, and the potential for new less toxic treatments.
Source: Canadian Cancer Society, World Cancer Day: Childhood cancer in Canada, January 28, 2006. Available at www.cancer.ca