Around 710 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia, but thankfully, our childhood cancer death rate is the lowest of all G20 countries and our five-year survival rate of 81 per cent is among the best in the world.
Despite these encouraging survival rates, our overall incidence rate for childhood cancers is still amongst the highest in the world (Though, an exception to this is melanoma. Our figures show a 38 per cent decrease in the incidence of melanoma among Aussie kids between 1993 and 2013, likely due to long-running public health campaigns like our SunSmart ‘Slip, Slop, Slap').
The causes of most childhood cancers are largely unknown. Cancers affecting children generally differ from those affecting adults; childhood cancers usually occur in different parts of the body to adults and aren't usually linked to lifestyle or environmental factors.
Encouraginly, childhood cancers tend to be more responsive to chemotherapy and children often tolerate the treatments better.
What progress is being made?
To continue to lower this incidence rate, it's vital we continue to run education programs and fund research to improve treatments and better understand the contributing factors. Our support services for the families affected are also incredibly important.
The challenge of childhood cancers is enormous, but we're making progress. Advances in diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care mean the overall survival rate for children and adolescents in Australia is now more than 80 per cent, and we're committed to seeing that figure continually rise.
The most common types of childhood cancer
- Leukaemia - a cancer that affects the blood cells; the two main types are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia
- Brain tumours - the most common types in kids are gliomas and medulloblastoma
- Neuroblastoma - a cancer of the nerve cells
- Lymphoma - a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system; the two main types are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Sarcoma - a malignant tumour that develops in the bone, muscle or connective tissue.
Tumours of the central nervous system (mainly brain tumours) account for 40% of all childhood cancer deaths - this is the single largest cause of cancer deaths for children in Australia. Research taking place in WA is hoping to change that.
The promising local research taking place right now
This year, we're proud to be contributing $400,000 towards research into the treatment of medulloblastoma carried out by local researcher Dr Nick Gottardo (pictured below with medulloblastoma survivor, Chloe).
Dr Gottardo's research is investigating a new class of more effective chemotherapy drugs with the aim of making the current chemotherapy for MB more effective from the start of the treatment so ultimately there will be a decreased need for radiotherapy which causes toxicity and long-term side effects.
"Unfortunately, the current treatment for MB is not always effective and one of the reasons is believed to be due to the genetic characteristics underlying the type of MB, which make the cancer cell resistant to DNA damage to healthy cells, leading to relapse," Dr Gottardo said.
Read more about Dr Gottardo's research here.
Where to go for more information
We provide confidential phone information and support via Cancer Council 13 11 20 - this service is available for the cost of a local call and open to everyone as we know it's not just the patient and their immediate family who need our support.
Cancer in the school community is a guide for school staff who would like to support students, families and colleagues affected by cancer.
Our Children with cancer page provides a list of websites that specifically provide information and support for children, including those diagnosed with cancer and their siblings.
As with everything we do, as an independent organisation, this research and support wouldn't be possible without the generous support of the community.