Every year, around 400,000 children and adolescents from 0 to 19 years of age are diagnosed with cancer worldwide. Childhood cancer is considered a rare disease and is largely unknown, but is devastating for both the children and young people affected as well as for their families and wider social environment.
The most common types of childhood cancer are leukaemias, brain tumours, lymphomas and solid tumours such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumours, but very few have specific treatments for children. In high-income countries, where the population usually has access to comprehensive services, more than 80% of affected children are cured, but in many countries with middle and low income the cure rate is from 15 to 45%. Patients who present with metastatic disease or who have relapsed have very low survival rates.
It should be borne in mind that some antitumour treatments are extremely aggressive for children, while others are highly toxic, have low specificity and leave sequelae. What’s more, the results of cancer research in adults cannot be extrapolated to children’s cancer, as they are very different diseases. Developmental cancer (in children and adolescents) therefore requires specific research which enables the possibility of cure through more effective, less toxic treatments to be increased.
What are the key differences between cancer in adults and childhood cancer? Why my child? Why do we devote far fewer resources to childhood cancer than cancer in adults? What is molecular analysis and how can it help oncologists determine which type of cancer affects each child? How many specific childhood cancer treatments are currently approved? What new research is being conducted to achieve higher cure rates? What new drugs are expected to be available in the coming years? Is the cure permanent? What is the situation with cancer research in Spain?
The Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona(PCCB) will open in 2022, a new, state-of-the-art centre for research into and treatment of childhood cancer. It will have the highest care capacity in Spain and will be one of the most significant of its kind in Europe.
Dr Jaume Mora, scientific director of the PCCB. Sant Joan de Dèu Hospital, Barcelona.
Dr Ana Patiño, professor of Genetics and researcher at the Laboratory of Advanced Therapies for Solid Tumours of the Pediatrics Department of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra.
Montse Baldomà, journalist.