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Our impact on children's cancers

We're fighting over 200 cancers, and childhood cancer is in our sights. Every single pound donated helps fund our groundbreaking research, bringing closer the day when all cancers will be cured.


Thanks to our generous supporters and heroic researchers, childhood cancer is a success story in the UK. Back In the 1960s, only around a quarter of children with cancer survived. Today, three quarters are cured and our work has been at the heart of this amazing progress.

Many of the 33,000 survivors of children’s cancer alive today owe their lives to our doctors, nurses and scientists, and we’ve supported many of the world’s most successful clinical trials of new treatments.

Yet every child who loses their life to cancer is one too many.

Cancer Research UK is a major funder of research into children’s cancer in the UK. We are working hard to discover what causes childhood cancers, finding new ways to treat them with fewer side effects, and tackling the challenge of cancers that are resistant to current treatments.

Our researchers are heroes. Find out how your donation could support their pioneering, life-saving work.

Here are just some of the ways our work has made a difference to the lives of children and their families:

Testing new treatments

Clinical trials are a vital step in bringing new, more effective treatments to children with cancer. Currently around six out of ten children with cancer in the UK are on a clinical trial, which has made a major contribution to developing the successful treatments that are used today.

Cancer Research UK plays a unique and pivotal role in children’s cancer trials in the UK. We have funded the clinical research work of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) for over 25 years. This group has been instrumental in improving the survival rates of children with cancer and continues to drive research forward in this area.

We now work with members of the CCLG through the Cancer Research UK Children’s Cancer Trials Team (CCTT), based in Birmingham. The CCTT co-ordinates groundbreaking clinical trials in 21 centres across the UK. These trials bring cutting edge science from the lab to the bedside, making innovative new treatments available to children with cancer. 

Lifesaving treatments

There are numerous types of cancer that affect children, and we have made significant progress in many areas. Here are just a few examples:

  • Our pioneering research on leukaemia – the most common type of childhood cancer - has helped save the lives of thousands of children. Back in the 1970s our researchers figured out the molecular ‘signatures’ of different types of childhood leukaemia, revolutionising the way it’s treated. 12 And we have funded several important clinical trials, including one showing that a new drug could increase survival by more than 50 per cent for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia whose cancer has come back.9
  • We were involved in a trial that led to a dramatic improvement in survival for a type of childhood liver cancer called hepatoblastoma1. Now eight out of ten children survive this disease, compared to two out of ten in the 1970s.
  • Our scientists were part of international efforts to improve treatment for children with B cell lymphoma2.
  • Cancer Research UK helped to fund research that has changed the way that children are treated for Wilms’ tumour – a type of kidney cancer3.
  • We were also involved in a 10-year study that improved survival rates for neuroblastoma by two-thirds4.
  • Our work also led to a new standard of treatment for children with medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumour5.
  • We helped to fund a clinical trial that shows how to cut the long-term side effects of treatment for children with ependymoma, a type of brain tumour.11

Finding the causes

In many cases it is very difficult to pin down the exact cause of a child’s cancer, although we know that some are caused by specific gene faults. Our researchers have made great strides in understanding some of the genetic faults that contribute to certain types of the disease.

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK tracked down important genes involved in Wilms’ tumour6. And they have also discovered key genetic changes in children and young adults with synovial sarcoma7 - a rare type of connective tissue cancer- helping doctors to diagnose the disease more effectively.

Our researchers have also found genes involved in Fanconi anaemia8 – an inherited syndrome that increases a child’s risk of developing leukaemia. This finding will help doctors to predict how the syndrome might progress in individual children, and to tailor their treatment more effectively. And in the 1980s our scientists developed a screening test for children carrying a faulty gene that causes retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer.10

Although most children's cancers are caused by faulty or damaged genes, there are some other causes. Back in the 1960s, our scientists discovered the first human cancer virus - Epstein-Barr virus – which causes a type of childhood cancer called Burkitt's lymphoma13. Although it's not common in the UK, Burkitt's lymphoma is a big problem elsewhere in the world and causes half of all childhood cancer deaths in some parts of Africa.  

Life after cancer

Thousands of children have survived cancer, but it is important to find out whether their treatment has long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.

We have funded the British Childhood Cancer Survival Study for more than two decades, investigating the long-term impact of cancer treatment. The study has shown that many survivors of childhood cancer go on to lead healthy lives, and have children of their own.

But the study has also highlighted discrepancies in the care of childhood cancer survivors, as well as revealing their risk of developing certain diseases or other problems later in life. This work is already helping doctors to provide the best care for children with cancer – offering the most effective treatment while minimising long-term risks.

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  1. Perlingo et al, Risk-adapted treatment for childhood hepatoblastoma. final report of the second study of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology--SIOPEL 2. Eur J Cancer. 2004 Feb;40(3):411-21.
  2. Gerrard et al, Excellent survival following two courses of COPAD chemotherapy in children and adolescents with resected localized B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: results of the FAB/LMB 96 international study. Br J Haematol. 2008 Jun;141(6):840-7.
  3. Mitchell et al, Immediate nephrectomy versus preoperative chemotherapy in the management of non-metastatic Wilms' tumour: results of a randomised trial (UKW3) by the UK Children's Cancer Study Group. Eur J Cancer. 2006 Oct;42(15):2554-62.
  4. Pearson et al, High-dose rapid and standard induction chemotherapy for patients aged over 1 year with stage 4 neuroblastoma: a randomised trial. Lancet Oncol. 2008 Mar;9(3):247-56.
  5. Taylor et al, Results of a randomized study of preradiation chemotherapy versus radiotherapy alone for nonmetastatic medulloblastoma: The International Society of Paediatric Oncology/United Kingdom Children's Cancer Study Group PNET-3 Study. J Clin Oncol. 2003 Apr 15;21(8):1581-91.
  6. Williams et al, Subtype-specific FBXW7 mutation and MYCN copy number gain in Wilms' tumor.Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Apr 1;16(7):2036-45.
  7. Clark et al, Identification of novel genes, SYT and SSX, involved in the t(X;18)(p11.2;q11.2) translocation found in human synovial sarcoma.Nat Genet. 1994 Aug;7(4):502-8.
  8. Reid et al, Biallelic mutations in PALB2 cause Fanconi anemia subtype FA-N and predispose to childhood cancer.Nat Genet. 2007 Feb;39(2):162-4.
  9. Parker et al,Effect of mitoxantrone on outcome of children with first relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL R3): an open-label randomised trial. Lancet. 2010
  10. Mitchell et al, Prenatal exclusion of hereditary retinoblastoma. Lancet. 1988 Apr 9;1(8589:826
  11. Grundy et al,Primary postoperative chemotherapy without radiotherapy for intracranial ependymoma in children: the UKCCSG/SIOP prospective study. Lancet Oncol. 2007 Aug;8(8):696-705.
  12. Brown et al, Expression of human T and B lymphocyte cell-surface markers on leukaemic cells.Lancet (1974) 2: 753-755. and Chessells, J. M. et al. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children: Classification and prognosis. Lancet (1977) 2: 1307-9.
  13. Epstein et al, Virus particles in cultured lymphoblasts from Burkitt's Lymphoma Lancet (1964) 1: 702-03.


Updated: 6 July 2010