More Therapies Needed for Childhood Cancers

CURE, Summer 2010, Volume 9, Issue 2

A report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looks at the outcomes in children and adolescents with cancer, hoping to provide insights that will guide future research.

Over the last three decades, researchers have noted some significant trends in childhood cancer survival. A report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in April, looked at the outcomes in children and adolescents with cancer, hoping to provide insights that will guide future research.

The report showed that while overall mortality rates in childhood cancer have declined by more than 50 percent, increased survival has improved primarily for blood cancers. Survival rates for solid tumors, on the other hand, have remained consistent over the last 10 to 20 years.

Malcolm Smith, MD, PhD, associate branch chief, pediatrics, at the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program and study lead, said this difference in survival rates is most likely due to the available treatments and clinical trials for blood cancers versus the smaller numbers in solid tumors. And even though leukemias and lymphomas have had a significantly decreasing death rate over the 32-year period being observed, those numbers have begun slowing down within the past decade.

Even so, more than 38,000 childhood cancer-related deaths have been averted between 1975 and 2006, which shows the benefit of identifying more effective treatments through clinical research, Smith says.

“Another important point would be there have been declines in childhood cancer mortality, but that in the recent years, the decline has slowed,” he adds. “This highlights the need for us to identify more effective treatments for those cancers that we don’t have adequate treatments for now.”

The next step is to begin understanding the biology and genetics of childhood cancers in order to provide targeted therapies. In order to do this, the NCI is currently conducting a study called the Childhood Cancer TARGET initiative (target.cancer.gov), which Smith is one of the leads for.

“We’re conducting the research now that will provide that understanding of the biology and the genetics of childhood cancers,” Smith says. “And with that understanding, we hope to convert that into targeted therapies that will allow more children to be successfully treated.”