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Paediatric Oncology: Why it Matters So Much

September 11, 2013

About 10,400 North American children (between birth and 14 years of age) develop childhood cancer every year. The outlook for these children has improved enormously.  Now at least 80% of them will become long-term survivors who are cured of their disease. This was very different 20 to 30 years ago, when most children with cancer did not survive.

Cure rates have for the most part improved by the use of multiple treatment modalities (chemotherapy, surgery and sometimes radiation therapy), better supportive care and through therapy intensification (using higher total doses of chemotherapy over a shorter period of time). But we still have so much more to do. Some children are still not in that lucky 80%. Childhood cancer is the leading natural cause of death in children aged 1 to 14 years and the impact of this disease on children and their families is enormous. Here is a link to a very powerful story about one little girl who sadly did not survive her journey with cancer: http://loveforlilee.com

Educational websites like Pediatric Oncology Education Materials aim to make health care professionals more aware of paediatric cancer and to encourage medical and nursing students to think about a career in paediatric oncology. The BC Cancer Foundation helps to coordinate support for this website.

As a pediatric oncologist, it’s important for me to be up to date with the latest clinical trial and research results coming from a variety of international groups. The BC Cancer Agency makes it possible for me to attend annual meetings of the Children’s Oncology Group, which enters children with cancer in British Columbia into North American studies designed by experts and with the best standards of quality control. In this way we can help to establish which therapy works best and carefully monitor side effects. It’s all part of the effort to give our children the best treatment possible.

In Canada, I work with health care professionals who treat childhood cancer and we have recently formed the C17 Council for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders so that we can begin to organize our own program of clinical care, education and research to meet the needs of Canadian children. 

In my next blog entry, I will look at how health care professionals work together as a team to look after children with cancer and the research done to improve cure rates while reducing the risk of treatment related side effects.

Thanks for reading,