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Childhood cancer research - why?

Last update on: 04/09/2009

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Cancer is the most common cause of death in children and adolescents (after accidents).

  • Cancer in children and adolescents is a rare occurrence.
  • Annually, there are about 2.150 and 2.1801,2 new incidents diagnosed with cancer in Germany and Austria amongst children and adolescents up to 15 years.
  • Despite improved cure rates and progress of research, leukemia and malignant tumours are still life-threatening illnesses. Without efficient therapy, children and adolescents suffering from cancer only survive for a few months.
  • The spectrum of cancer illnesses found in children and adolescents (up to 18 years of age) is principally different than those found in adults, which is why paediatric oncology is its own field. Paediatric cancers differ from adult cancers in origin, characteristics and disease progression.
  • Among the most common childhood cancers are leukemias, lymphomas, brain tumors, and bone cancer. Each of these cancers also occurs in adults, but adult cancers tend more commonly to strike the lung, colon, breast, prostate, and pancreas. Furthermore, adult cancers are highly dependent on the environment and the toxins we are exposed to over the course of our life. Carcinomas in children only make up approximately one percent and are thus rare.
  • Certain types of cancer in children develop and therefore, they develop in infancy. They are also referred to as embryonic tumours and are virtually non-existent in adults.
  • In contrast to cancers found in adults, paediatric cancers show a more aggressive growth behaviour, meaning that they progress faster in children and adolescents.
  • In order to treat paediatric cancer patients using drugs that have been tested and approved for adults only, it does not suffice to simply adjust the dose, since a child’s organism is not fully developed yet and therefore shows big differences in metabolism compared to that of adults.
  • It is necessary to consider that the treatment steps may have other effects on the child's organism, which is still in a state of growth and development, than in the case of an adult patient. Short-term and long-term side effects as well as psychosocial problems may be the result.
  • Decades of experience have shown that, compared to adults, young patients’ cancer cells are more sensitive to cell poisons, meaning that those affected have a far higher tolerance towards treatments. This means: If the right treatment is available, then one is able to gain relatively good control of the cancer illness in children and adolescents depending on the respective type of cancer.
  • Childhood cancer research does not represent a financially attractive market to the pharmaceutical industry as a result of the low numbers of paediatric cancer patients.
  • To provide sufficient funds for biomedical and clinical research projects, childhood cancer research is dependent on private donations and public funds, such as the Research Framework Programmes of the European Commission.

 

Reference:

1 „Krebs in Deutschland. Häufigkeiten und Trends“ (Cancer in Germany. Frequency and trends) by the Association of epidemiological cancer index in Germany registered association in collaboration with the Robert-Koch-Institute, 5th revised edition, Saarbrücken 200

2 Statistik Austria: „Krebsinzidenz im Überblick“