QLD_CM_NEWS_CANCERKIDS_16FEB20
QLD_CM_NEWS_CANCERKIDS_16FEB20

Worrying trend has medical experts stumped

AUSTRALIA'S childhood cancer rate is projected to jump another 7 per cent by 2035, after rising 1.2 per cent a year in the decade to 2015.

The slow but steady rise follows a 10-year period when the incidence of childhood cancer in Australia was stable, experts say.

Although diagnostic improvements may account for some of the increase, statistician Danny Youlden, of Cancer Council Queensland, said the reasons for the spike were largely a mystery.

Recent childhood cancer rate increases have also been reported in Asia and North America.

Savannah Burns, 5, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June 2018. Picture: Peter Wallis
Savannah Burns, 5, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June 2018. Picture: Peter Wallis

"Unlike adult cancers, which often develop as a result of lifestyle and environmental factors - tobacco and alcohol use, diet, physical activity, and all those things - we simply don't know what causes most cases of childhood cancer," Associate Professor Youlden said.

"Ongoing research in that area is urgently needed. If modifiable risk factors can be identified it will allow us to take action to prevent childhood cancer.

"For now, there is nothing that we can point to that either increases or decreases the risk."

Taking in population increases, experts predict the number of cancers in Australian children under 15 years of age to catapult from an average of 770 a year between 2011 and 2015 to 1060 by 2035.

That's an increase in incidence from 174 to 186 cases of cancer per million children per year.

Queensland researchers analysed data from the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry for more than 20,500 children diagnosed with cancer between 1983 and 2015.

Their findings are reported in today's edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

Professor Youlden, who led the research, said the incidence of central nervous system tumours - those affecting the brain or spinal cord - had increased by 3.3 per cent a year between 2005 and 2015.

In the same period, rates of hepatoblastoma, which originates in the cells of the liver, increased by 2.3 per cent a year, Burkitt lymphomas rose by 1.6 per cent a year and osteosarcomas by 1.1 per cent annually.

 

Savannah Burns (centre), aged 5, with sisters Jazmine Burns, 2, and Sarah Burns, 7. Savannah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June 2018. She had a bone marrow transplant last year. Picture: Peter Wallis
Savannah Burns (centre), aged 5, with sisters Jazmine Burns, 2, and Sarah Burns, 7. Savannah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June 2018. She had a bone marrow transplant last year. Picture: Peter Wallis

The one bright spot in the latest data is childhood melanoma, with incidence rates dropping 7.7 per cent a year between 1996 and 2015, believed to be as a result of successful sun safe programs.

Professor Youlden said the projections for higher childhood cancer rates in Australia should be factored in by health services in their planning for bed and workforce requirements to cater for the treatment and support needs of children and their families.

Five-year-old Savannah Burns, of Ipswich, west of Brisbane, was four years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia on June 29, 2018.

She's one of about 360 Australian children aged four and under diagnosed with cancer each year.

After about six months of chemotherapy in the Queensland Children's Hospital, she relapsed in May last year and four months later received a bone-marrow transplant from a UK donor.

She is living with her family in Leukaemia Foundation units in Brisbane but they hope to be back home in Ipswich in time for Savannah's sixth birthday on February 28.



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