Britain rivals the US in childhood cancer survival

Cancer Research UK

UKCCSG 25th Anniversary Conference

Britain's survival rates for the most common forms of children's cancer now match those of the US - universally acknowledged as the gold standard.

Experts from Cancer Research UK say there are at least 25,000 people alive in Britain who have been successfully treated for the disease. They believe the success can be attributed to nationwide collaborations spearheaded by the country's network of specialists - the UK Children's Cancer Study Group (UKCCSG).

The figures - published in a book launched today to mark the UKCCSG's quarter century1 - highlight Britain's success in targeting the commoner children's cancers. Cancer Research UK, in its role as the major funder of the UKCCSG, is now supporting a series of Europe-wide trials to focus on rarer forms of the disease.

Survival for Acute Lymphoid Leukaemia, the most common form of cancer in children, is now 81 per cent, just behind the US figure of 85 per cent. And for Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphoma, survival in Britain is 97 per cent, ahead of the US rate of 94 per cent (see notes to editors for further details).

But while survival for the commoner children's cancers is very similar to Britain's, the US is doing better in treatments for some of the rarer forms of the disease. This is reflected in a survival rate for childhood cancers in general of 77 per cent, compared with Britain's rate of 72 per cent.

In the past, it has been difficult for British doctors to carry out patient trials for the rarer types of childhood cancer, because there are not enough cases in the country for statistically valid studies. But greater collaboration with treatment centres across Europe will allow researchers to get around this problem, in a concerted attempt to improve treatments for the less common types of the disease.

Cancer Research UK is now funding the UKCCSG to collaborate across Europe on trials for Wilms' Tumour, Ewing's Sarcoma, Hepatoblastoma and Neuroblastoma (see notes for details).

"This is excellent news," says Dr Sue Ablett, Executive Director of the UKCCSG. "Finding better treatments for children with cancer has always been difficult because the numbers of children with each different form of the disease are mercifully quite small. It's only by carrying out large-scale studies that we can find out which treatments are best, and to do this we've had to work with our colleagues across the UK and the rest of Europe."

Sir Paul Nurse, Cancer Research UK's Chief Executive, says: "In terms of the key successes of cancer research over the last few decades, childhood cancer is undoubtedly one of the jewels in our crown.

"We're delighted that for many forms of the disease, children in Britain do as well as anywhere in the world. But while these figures are very encouraging, we believe that by continuing to share expertise with colleagues across the world, it should be possible to do even better."

ENDS

  1. Quest for Cure was launched at the UKCCSG's conference at the Institute of Child Health in London.

Notes to Editor

'The new book is called 'Quest for Cure. UK Children's Cancer Study Group: the first 25 years'. It traces improvements in treatment and survival over the last quarter century.

The survival data in the book includes cancers diagnosed in Britain from 1992-1996. The most recent US data is slightly newer, covering diagnoses from 1992-1998, and so reflects the latest advances in research and treatment. Despite this, US survival is not significantly better for any of the most common kinds of the disease.

The UKCCSG, which has been supported by Cancer Research UK for over 20 years, has played a major role in allowing Britain to catch up with the US in the treatment of childhood cancer. For cancers diagnosed in Britain from 1972-1976, before the group was established, five-year survival for children was just 42 per cent, compared with 56 per cent in the US.

December is Children's Cancer Awareness Month which aims to highlight the need for continuing research into prevention and treatments of the disease. Cancer Research UK spends over three million pounds each year on research into children's cancers.

Wilms' Tumour is a cancer of the kidney which is usually diagnosed in children aged between one and five years old. Ewing's Sarcoma is a cancer the bones, Hepatoblastoma is a cancer of the liver and Neuroblastoma occurs in the nerve cells.

Test - with forward slash

Test - without forward slash