Australia has one of the highest incidences of childhood cancer worldwide. Sadly, one in 500 Australian children will develop a cancer before 15 years of age and childhood cancer is still the leading cause of death from disease amongst Australian children.
Cancer in children is different from adult cancer, in that children are predominantly diagnosed with leukaemia, which is cancer of the blood or bone marrow, and lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymphatic system. As each child’s cancer is unique and responds differently to treatment, determining the best treatment protocol is challenging to say the least.
Childhood cancer is a highly aggressive disease, and leukaemia patients under 12 months of age only have a 45 per cent survival rate. Adult cancer sufferers face a loss of five to 30 years due to cancer. In stark comparison, childhood survivors of cancer are likely to lose 67 years of life through cancer and its treatments.
Over a three-year treatment period, these children will have ingested up to 10 to 12 different drugs that would have significant negative side effects within their growing bodies. Late effects of treatment can include heart damage, second cancers, lung damage, infertility, cognitive impairment, growth deficits, hearing losses and more. Two-thirds of those who do survive face dealing with at least one chronic health condition for the rest of their lives. One quarter of survivors face a late effect of treatment that could be classified as severe or life-threatening.
This highlights the vital importance of further research into childhood cancer and the need to develop better treatment protocols to alleviate the suffering of these children.