Despite Recent Declines in Childhood and Adolescent Cancer Mortality, More Effective Treatments are Still Needed

July 03, 2014

In a recent report in CancerOpens in a New Tab, Dr. Malcolm Smith and colleagues evaluated the progress in identifying more effective treatments for pediatric cancers by analyzing data from the NCI Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER)Opens in a New Tab program. They specifically looked at cancer incidence and survival of US patients under 20 years of age from 1975 to 2010. After a previously reported plateau around the year 2000, Smith et al. observed a decrease in overall cancer mortality rates of children and adolescents from 2002 to 2010. The decline was similar to the one observed from the mid-seventies to the late-nineties. Most cancers, including leukemias, lymphomas, and gonadal cancers, showed significant reductions in mortality rates over the past decade with some variation between age groups. These decreases in mortality are observed even though the incidence of childhood and adolescent cancers has increased slightly over the last decade.

Despite recent progress in averting pediatric cancer deaths, current standard treatments are harsh on children and result in lasting side effects or secondary cancers, which can lessen the quality and length of life. Furthermore, many challenges remain in treating cancers for which standard treatment does not provide a cure. The authors, therefore, underscore the need for continued large-scale genomic research initiatives to identify relevant targets that can lead to more effective, less toxic treatments for all children with cancer.

At the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA) and National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) meeting on June 24th, Dr. Malcolm Smith discussed the Cancer report and its implications for ongoing NCI pediatric cancer research efforts. Dr. Daniela Gerhard, Director of the Office of Cancer Genomics, gave a brief update on Therapeutically Active Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET)Opens in a New Tab by highlighting a few of the many significant findings from this pediatric cancer initiative. The findings reveal that, while childhood and adult cancers share many molecular changes, pediatric cancers have significantly fewer mutations overall. Furthermore, there are subsets of pediatric tumors with molecular changes that are distinct from those found in their adult counterparts. This suggests the diseases are caused by different mechanisms. For this reason, Drs. Smith and Gerhard both emphasized childhood and adolescent cancers should be treated differently than adult cancers. Dr. Smith referenced several clinical studies by the Children’s Oncology Group that are testing new treatments that target specific genomic lesions of pediatric patients. Some of these clinical studies are based on the results of TARGET research.

Dr. Smith is the Associate Branch Chief for Pediatric Oncology in the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program. He and Dr. Gerhard co-lead TARGET.

Read the PubMed abstract of the Cancer report: in a New Tab.

Watch the archived broadcast of the NCI BSA/NCAB meeting: https://videocast.nih.govOpens in a New Tab.

Last updated: March 16, 2023