What is World Cancer Day?
World Cancer Day is a global initiative, because cancer is a global problem. But while it’s a world-wide movement, it’s actually about what each one of us as individuals can do to help. It’s about working together to create a world where millions of cancer deaths are prevented, and life-saving treatment is available for everyone who needs it.
What about childhood cancer?
Cancer can affect anyone at any age. But most devastating of all is when cancer is diagnosed in a child ― someone whose life has only just begun. In Australia, we have about 1,000 new cases of cancer in children and adolescents diagnosed every year. And the incidence is rising.
Worldwide, there are about 300,000 new cases of cancer each year in children and adolescents.
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, life for everyone in that child’s family changes forever. Treatment can go on for years, and the physical and psychological consequences can be life-long.
Then of course, there are those who don’t make it. Every week in Australia, three children and adolescents die from cancer. In fact, cancer is killing more children in this country than any other disease.
What is the challenge in curing all children?
This year, the theme for World Cancer Day is “progress is possible”. And indeed, over the years, thanks to research, great progress has been made in improving survival rates. Today, 8 out of 10 children will survive their cancer. But for some of the most aggressive childhood cancers, conventional treatments simply do not work and there are still little or no options. Cancers like brain tumours, sarcomas (cancers of the bone and soft tissues like muscle), and sub-types of more common childhood cancers like leukaemia and neuroblastoma.
For many childhood cancers, the same treatments used in the 1970s continue to be used today.
Childhood cancer is different to adult cancer and therefore requires different treatments. But it’s also much rarer, which means developing those treatments hasn’t been a priority for pharmaceutical companies. In fact, in the last 40 years, only about eight drugs have been developed and approved for use in children with cancer.
Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute
What can we do about it?
At Children’s Cancer Institute we know that progress is possible, and we’re determined to take this challenge head on. We are the only independent medical research institute in Australia solely dedicated to childhood cancer and with that comes a great responsibility. We are determined to find answers for those aggressive cancers that are still claiming too many children’s lives.
One thing we’ve learned from our research is that, when it comes to childhood cancer treatment, one size does not fit all. Every child and every cancer is different.
To save more children’s lives, we need to tailor treatment to each individual child.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing with the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, Australia’s first personalised medicine program for children with cancer, which we run in partnership with the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. It’s a national program open to all Australian children with high-risk or aggressive cancers.
We’re also expanding our research to focus in on cancers that are the most difficult to treat ― finding and targeting the Achilles heel for each of them ― and bringing in new game-changing technologies like computational biology, which allows us to unlock vast amounts of information hidden in the genes of a child’s cancer cells.
To help reach our goal faster, we’re collaborating with scientists around the world. This is a global challenge, and we all need to work together to meet it.
The journey of a child on the Zero Childhood Cancer Program
How you can help
Our research is making a huge difference to the lives of children with cancer. But it is only by working together that we can continue this and achieve our ultimate goal of curing all children of cancer and improving their long-term health. Here are just some of the ways you can support our childhood cancer research:
Find out more about World Cancer Day at https://www.worldcancerday.org/