September 2015

September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time when cancer organisations around the world put the spotlight on children’s cancer and the need to improve diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda, said that with 650 children aged 0-14 expected to be diagnosed with cancer in Australia this year, Cancer Councils around the country were actively involved in research aimed at improving childhood cancer treatment and support.

"Research is a vital part of the important work of Cancer Councils and this includes a number of projects related to children’s cancers," Professor Aranda said.

"One example is the work of Professor Murray Norris and his team from the University of New South Wales, funded by Cancer Council NSW. The team have already improved treatment for children with leukaemia who were likely to relapse, and now they are working to prevent drug resistance, find new therapies and understand the causes of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)."

Professor Aranda said a critical aspect of childhood cancer research was being able to track trends over time and clinical information. Cancer Council Queensland independently manages and funds the Australian Paediatric Cancer Registry, recording the clinical and treatment information on all children diagnosed with cancer in Australia.

"Over the last year, data from the register has shown improvements in survival rates for acute myeloid leukaemia and positive trends for long-term childhood cancer survivors. Five-year survival for childhood cancers increased from 76 per cent in 1992-2001 to 82 per cent during 2002-2011.

"However, there is still plenty of work to be done, with an estimated 85 Australian children aged 0 - 14 dying of cancer last year, and many more feeling the effects of the disease and their treatment for years to come."

Professor Aranda said a critical aspect of Cancer Council’s work in children’s cancers was to provide information and support to children, childhood cancer survivors and their families.

Cancer Council recently produced a new national booklet, Cancer in the School Community – a resource for teachers, students and families impacted by cancer in the school environment. Other Cancer Council resources include Talking to kids about cancer, which aims to support families communicate with children about their cancer, or a family member or friend who has cancer, and Life during and after childhood cancer, which explores a range of aspects from diet and fatigue to school issues.

"As well as our range of cancer publications, we provide confidential phone information and support via Cancer Council 13 11 20 to anyone impacted by cancer,” Professor Aranda said.

"By calling 13 11 20 families can access a range of support services provided by Cancer Councils which aim to help relieve some of the stress on families – that can include things like financial support, practical assistance, transport and accommodation services, counselling services and support group and networks."1

"We also encourage those who have experienced childhood cancers to share their story - such as Nicole Quinn, who was diagnosed with leukaemia at age 13 and Amy Bond who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at age 6."

To assist GPs and health professionals, Cancer Council has produced a ‘red flags’ guide to alert health professionals to the warning signs of cancer in children.

Those looking for more information on childhood cancers can also check out the government agency, Cancer Australia’s new Children’s Cancers website.

1) Support services vary between state and territory Cancer Councils.