Childhood cancer often strikes its youngest victims the hardest, and the death rate for infants may be up to four times higher than previously thought, US researchers said last week. The study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology examined deaths within a month of diagnosis, before patients can be enrolled in a clinical trial that might save them.
The researchers based their study on a US database known as Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER), which registered more than 36,000 cases of paediatric cancer between 1992 and 2011.
Most of the research on childhood cancer comes from clinical trials involving treatments that might save lives, but lead study author Adam Green, a paediatric oncologist at the Children’s Hospital Colorado, and his colleagues found that the SEER database showed that 6.2 per cent of children with acute myeloid leukemia died early, compared with 1.6 per cent recorded in clinical trial data.
When they looked at early death from all kinds of paediatric cancer in the SEER database, they found that early cancer death rates were at least two to three times higher than reported in clinical trial data.
“Most of what we know about outcomes for cancer patients comes from clinical trials, which have much more thorough reporting rules than cancer treated outside trials,” said Green.
“However, the kids in our study aren’t surviving long enough to join clinical trials.”
Previous research has shown that treatments for childhood cancer have vastly improved the five-year survival rate.
Today, more than 80 per cent of kids diagnosed with cancer survive for five years.
A total of 555 — or 1.5 percent of the child patients in the SEER database — died within one month of cancer diagnosis. Those who died so quickly tended to be under age one.
Knowing more about those who die swiftly could lead to improved diagnostics, and better care so that more children can have a chance at survival.