Children’s cancer death rates drop over 20 years

Cancer Research UK

The rate of children dying from cancer has fallen by more than 30 per cent in the last 20 years, according to the latest figures released by Cancer Research UK.

"Many children who survive cancer will live with long-term side effects of their treatment which may have an impact on them as adults, so it’s vital that we find treatments that are not only better at treating the cancer but also have fewer side effects." - Professor Pam Kearns

The number* of children dying from cancer each year in Great Britain has fallen from around 340 two decades ago to around 240 today.

The figures show that cancer death rates** for all GB children under the age of 15  have fallen by 32 per cent, from around 31 deaths per million two decades ago to 21 deaths per million today thanks to more research and better treatments.

Much of this success is due to tackling childhood cancers by combining a number of different chemotherapy drugs. Cancer Research UK played a key role in the clinical trials that proved the benefits of these combined treatments, including a large international trial that has helped lead to liver cancer death rates falling by 26 per cent in the last decade. Research to improve imaging and radiotherapy techniques is also playing its part.

But this still means around five children die from cancer each week in Great Britain so we still need research into new ways to tackle children’s cancers. And improving treatment for children with cancer is a priority for Cancer Research UK. The charity funds research into many different types of cancer that affect children. Researchers are working hard to understand the causes of children’s cancer and the faulty genes that drive it, and they’re leading clinical trials to test pioneering new therapies.

The new figures are announced as the Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx, are launched.  The Star Awards celebrate the courage of children and teenagers in the UK who have faced a cancer diagnosis, and everyone who is nominated receives an award. 

Professor Pam Kearns is head of the Children’s Cancer Trials team at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham that is co-ordinating cancer trials for children and young people in specialist treatment centres across the UK to find the best ways to treat children and young people with cancer.

Professor Pam Kearns, Cancer Research UK’s children’s cancer expert, said: “Although we’re losing fewer young lives to cancer, a lot more needs to be done to find better treatments.

“As more children survive cancer, it’s especially important that we concentrate on improving the quality of life after treatment. Many children who survive cancer will live with long-term side effects of their treatment which may have an impact on them as adults, so it’s vital that we find treatments that are not only better at treating the cancer but also have fewer side effects.

“Cancer Research UK’s investment in clinical trials for children with cancer has been a major factor in developing today’s treatments and is pivotal to ongoing research that will offer new hope to children and their families.”

Cancer Research UK is also funding work searching for drugs to block faulty genes that cause a type of cancer that starts from nerve tissue called neuroblastoma. The charity is funding studies improving treatment options for children with a type of kidney cancer called Wilm’s tumour and also work to understand more about how leukaemia develops and why it can return after treatment.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “We’ve made great progress in helping more children survive cancer year on year, but this work is not finished. Better, kinder treatments must continue to be our target. Our researchers are making great advances every year to help even more children beat the disease.”

TK Maxx’s support of Cancer Research UK’s Kids & Teens Star Awards is part of a wider partnership with the charity, which has raised over £27.1 million through stock and cash donations. £23 million of this has specifically supported research into children’s cancers, with a further £4 million supporting general cancer research, making TK Maxx the biggest corporate funder of children’s cancer research in the UK. 

To nominate someone for a Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Award or to find out more about the campaign, visit our website.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on +44 203 469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on +44 7050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

* Based on the average number of deaths from cancer for all cancers combined, including benign brain tumours for children (aged 0-14), in Great Britain, between 1994-1996 and 2013-2015

** Based on cancer mortality rates for all cancers combined, including benign brain tumours for children (aged 0-14), in Great Britain. Rates decreased from 32 deaths per million children between 1994-1996 to 21 deaths per million between 2013-2015