Sep 18, 2017, 2:56:53 PM CDT Feb 23, 2023, 4:34:13 PM CST

Why childhood cancer survival rates are growing

The factors that help children survive cancer

child hand with IV child hand with IV

At the beginning of a child’s cancer care, there is one treatment goal: survivorship. The majority of children with cancer will reach this goal.

“Approximately 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will survive and grow up to adulthood,” says Tanya Watt, M.D., pediatric oncologist at Children’s Health℠. “These rates are significantly better than the adult world.”

Dr. Watt says children have higher cancer survival rates for many reasons.

Advances in pediatric cancer treatment

In the 1970s, only 58% of children with cancer survived the disease. Thanks to advances in chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, bone marrow transplants and more, today’s survival rates are much higher.

As physicians and researchers explore immunotherapy and precision medicine cancer treatments, these survival rates are expected to continue to climb. These new techniques specifically target a child’s cancer cells, leading to more effective treatments.

Healthier patients

Children with cancer are typically healthy in every other way. Their young bodies can handle more strenuous cancer treatments.

“Children typically do not have other medical conditions that adults sometimes face,” Dr. Watt says. “Because of that, their bodies are often able to more effectively handle the aggressive medical and surgical treatments.” Delivering stronger chemotherapies can increase the chance to destroy aggressive cancer cells, leading to higher survival rates.

Biologically different cancer tumors

Childhood cancers are also biologically different than adult cancers. The tumor cells look different on a microscopic level. Dr. Watt says these tumors tend to be more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy than adult tumors. Even advanced cancers, such as metastatic or stage IV cancers, respond to treatment better in children than in adults.

“In the adult world, there is a lot of discussion about early detection,” says Dr. Watt. “That doesn’t play such a significant role in pediatric cancer. We give families the confidence that they came in at the right time—when they realized something was going on.”

Though every type of childhood cancer has a different survival rate, children with cancer and their families have reason to hope for the best. With expert care and comprehensive support, most children will overcome cancer and grow into healthy adults.

Learn more

Learn more about the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health and how our highly trained experts help children fight cancer.

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