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More Canadian Children Surviving Cancer

09 April 2008

Toronto -

More Canadian children with cancer are surviving, according to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008 released today by the Canadian Cancer Society. For the first time, a special section in this year’s report focuses on children with cancer from birth to 14 years of age.

Although rare, cancer is the leading cause of death from disease in Canadian children over one month of age, second only to accidents. Each year, approximately 850 Canadian children between birth and 14 years of age develop cancer, and about 135 die from the disease.

For all childhood cancers combined, the five-year survival is estimated to be 82 per cent – an increase of 11 per cent over 15 years.

“More children surviving cancer is welcome news,” says Heather Logan, Director, Cancer Control Policy, Canadian Cancer Society. “However, many survivors experience future health issues, called late effects, either as a result of the cancer or the treatment. An important challenge now is to find out more about these late health effects through research.”

Dr Paul Grundy, a pediatric oncologist, says that about two-thirds of children with cancer will have at least one late effect from their treatment, and about one-third are serious. “They are at increased risk of physical and mental health issues, as well as the possible development of secondary cancers,” says Grundy, who is also chair of C17 Research Network, which focuses solely on childhood cancer.

Late effects can appear months or years after treatment has ended. The most common late effects among childhood cancer survivors are complications with hormone levels and metabolic function (for example, infertility or delayed puberty). The ability to think and reason may also be affected, which can lead to challenges at school. Other late effects include trouble with how certain organs function (heart, lungs, stomach, intestines) and an increased risk of developing a second type of cancer.

“Due to previous poor survival of children with cancer, there was limited opportunity to study survivors as they aged,” says Logan. “As treatments have changed and improved, research is needed to understand what survivors of childhood cancer may face and what’s needed to support them.”

Impacts beyond treatment

A cancer diagnosis profoundly affects both the children and their families.

“Having a child with cancer is a difficult journey that can have many impacts beyond treatment,” says Grundy. “Children and their families can require ongoing physical and emotional support, as well as healthcare. It also has financial impacts as parents may have to work less or stop altogether to care for the child, often for prolonged periods.”

Research

Childhood cancer research has led to significant progress, most notably in the decline of death rates and improved survival.

“Cooperative, collaborative clinical trials throughout North Americahave been key to progress,” says Grundy. “Pooling resources ensures enough children participate in trials to achieve effective results in a timely way.”

Nearly 80 per cent of children with cancer are either enrolled in a clinical trial or treated according to a protocol established by a clinical trial. The majority of clinical trials in North American operate through the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). All 17 of Canada’s pediatric cancer centres throughout Canada belong to COG.

Several years ago, the Directors of the 17 pediatric cancer centres formally established the C17 Council with support from the Childhood Cancer Foundation-Candlelighters Canada. The research arm of the Council – the C17 Research Network – has enabled two to four pan-Canadian studies a year to be funded.

Terry’s story

In the 1960s, Terry Hoddinott lost his sight to retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that attacks the retina of infants and young children. It is an inherited disease that is often passed down from parent to child.

“Little was known about retinoblastoma when I was a child,” says Terry. “But in the 1980s, researchers began closing in on ways to fight this cancer.”

Terry’s older child, 11-year-old Riley, inherited the mutated gene that causes retinoblastoma. But because of early diagnosis and intensive treatment, Riley kept his sight in one eye. A few years later, Riley’s little sister, 9-year-old Katie, was diagnosed before she was born. She was treated early and now she has two perfect eyes.

“Research helped save three of my children’s four eyes,” says Terry, who does computer support for Bell Canada in London, Ontario.

“Research will continue to be key to improving diagnosis and treatment and hearing more stories like Terry’s,” says Logan. “Our ultimate goal is that research will lead to more answers about prevention so that fewer children and their families have to face a cancer diagnosis.”

Childhood cancer highlights

  • Since 1985, there has been a dramatic decline in childhood cancer death rates (dropping from approximately 40 to 20 per million children*).
  • Childhood cancer incidence rates have remained relatively stable since 1985.
  • Accurate diagnosis and treatment are the most effective ways of controlling childhood cancer.
  • Little is known about what causes childhood cancer, which limits opportunities for prevention.

Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008 highlights

  • This year approximately 166,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer and about 73,800 will die from the disease.
  • The five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined is 62 per cent (excluding Quebec**).
  • Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for men and women.
  • Almost 40 per cent of Canadian women and almost 45 per cent of men will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
  • About 24 percent of women and almost 29 per cent of men, or approximately 1 out of every 4 Canadians, will die from cancer.

Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008 is prepared, printed and distributed through a collaboration of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Cancer Institute of Canada, Statistics Canada, provincial/territorial cancer registries, as well as university-based and provincial/territorial cancer agency-based cancer researchers.

*Rates for childhood cancer are expressed per million per year due to the rarity of the disease.

**Data from Quebec have been excluded, in part, because the method of ascertaining the date of cancer diagnosis differs from the method used by other registries.

An audio webcast is available of the media conference at: The webcast can also be accessed after the conference take places as it will be archived. Media backgrounder: Childhood Cancer in Canada - Fast Facts Media backgrounder: Childhood Cancer in Canada- Late Effects Media backgrounder: Cancer in Canada - Fast Facts Media backgrounder: Childhood Cancer and the Canadian Cancer Society Media backgrounder: Childhood Cancer Research Media backgrounder:The Hoddinott Family: a Survivor’s Story Media backgrounder: Childhood Cancer in Canada: Treatment Centres

For more information about Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008, visit the Society’s website at www.cancer.ca/statistics

An audio webcast is available of the media conference at on24.com.

The webcast can also be accessed after the conference take places as it will be archived.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.