According to new federal data, brain cancer is now the leading cancer killer of children.
But this new statistic comes with a silver lining. Brain tumors are not becoming more common in children. And leukemia, the former number one pediatric cancer killer, is now much less deadly than before. In fact, the overall cancer death rate fell by 20 percent among children between 1999 and 2014.
Leukemia and brain tumors are still the most common cancers in children, and they are still the top two killers. Sally Curtin, is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She found that Leukemia and brain cancer causes more than half of all childhood cancer deaths.
“In both 1999 and 2014, more than one-half of all cancer deaths among children and adolescents aged 1-19 years were attributable to either leukemia or brain cancer,” the team wrote in their report.
“Three out of 10 cancer deaths among children and adolescents aged 1-19 years in 1999 were due to leukemia. The most common site, whereas about one in four were due to brain cancer,” they added. “By 2014, these percentages reversed and brain cancer was the most common site, accounting for 29.9 of total cancer deaths.”
Overall, they found the mortality rate for childhood cancer fell by 20 percent, from 1999 to 2014.
“Pediatric brain tumors have not become deadlier over the years — survival rates for these patients have stayed relatively flat for decades,” Said David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society.
“The reason these patients now face the highest mortality rates is that while other areas of research have made great strides in recent years, pediatric brain tumor research has not generated advances that have translated into meaningful clinical benefit for these vulnerable patients.”
Improved treatments for leukemia have helped tremendously.
The National Cancer Institute says “In 1975, just over 50 percent of children diagnosed with cancer before age 20 years survived at least five years. In 2004-2010, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer before age 20 years survived at least five years.”
“Improved treatments introduced beginning in the 1970s raised the 5-year survival rate for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to about 90 percent in 2003-2009,” they added.
“Survival rates for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma have also increased dramatically, from less than 50 percent in the late 1970s to 85 percent in 2003-2009.”
Childhood cancer is rare, but regardless, it’s the most common fatal disease affecting kids in the U.S.
“In 2014, it is estimated that 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer. And 1,960 will die of the disease in the United States,” the National Cancer Institute says.
Boys are one-third more likely to die of childhood cancer than girls. The reason for that statistic is still not entirely clear. However, it’s one area that doesn’t have racial disparities. African American children are no more likely to get cancer than white children.
Most childhood cancers are mysterious. The American Cancer Society says that sometimes is the same processes that cause children to grow so quickly get out of hand and cause tumors instead. A few cancers are inherited. About 25 to 30 percent of eye cancer retinoblastoma cases are an inherited mutation in an RB1 gene.
“Most gene changes are probably just random events that sometimes happen inside a cell, without having an outside cause,” they add.
“Other than radiation, there are no known lifestyle-related or environmental causes of childhood brain tumors. So it is important to remember that there is nothing these children or their parents could have done to prevent these cancers.”
Other common childhood cancer killers in 2014, according to the NCHS:
Bone and cartilage cancer – 10 percent
Thyroid and other endocrine glands – 9 percent
Mesothelial and soft tissue – 7.7 percent