CHILDHOOD cancer is no longer a death sentence for most children, with new drugs and research leading to massive jumps in survival rates.
Figures for the most common form of childhood cancers show survival rates have increased to almost 90per cent for some forms of the disease over the past 30 years.
That’s good news for up to 40 children who are diagnosed with cancer in the Hunter and northern NSW each year.
John Hunter Children’s Hospital statistics show 363 Hunter children have been diagnosed with cancer at the service since 2000, including 26 in 2012.
The figures come as the region marks International Childhood Cancer Day today, with festivities including an activity day at The Forum on Sunday run by children’s cancer charities.
John Hunter Hospital paediatric oncologist/haematologist Janis Chamberlain said that 50 years ago a diagnosis of leukaemia would have been a ‘‘death sentence’’.
‘‘The proportion cured and permanently cured has been gradually increasing,’’ she said.
‘‘Our intention is to increase that proportion to 100per cent.’’
Dr Chamberlain said children more commonly suffered from leukaemia, lymphoma, neuroblastomas and brain tumours, as opposed to lifestyle cancers.
Their youth often worked in their favour because doctors could hit them with the strongest cocktail of drugs and they would survive.
‘‘Children are so resilient,’’ she said.
‘‘They will get the biggest dose relative to their size and tolerate it quite well.’’
Today, patients such as Riley Gollan participate in one of the many international trials that have helped to refine the best cancer treatments.
‘‘His outlook, as long as he stays in a standard risk group, his chance of permanent cure is very good,’’ Dr Chamberlain said.
Cancer Council Hunter manager Shayne Connell said childhood survival rates were one of the success stories when it came to research and community support.
He pointed to the work of University of Newcastle researcher Nikki Verrills, who has been given a $360,000 Cancer Council grant for her research into leukaemia.
‘‘When we see survival rates increase, we know that what we’re doing is working,’’ Mr Connell said.
‘‘It gives parents a lot of hope.’’
Dr Chamberlain said though it was a rugged journey for families there were a lot of health professionals caring for them along the way.
‘‘Some children do end up in intensive care with kidney, lung, respiratory [and] heart failure,’’ she said.
‘‘There’s still a percentage who won’t be cured.’’