By Kristin Connor
Here’s what we know. Less than 4% of federal funding for cancer research is allocated toward finding a cure for childhood cancers. The reason for this very tiny percentage is that allocations of cancer research funds are typically driven by the number of people who have the disease. And, while this approach may be the “democratic” way to distribute much needed federal monies, it doesn’t do very much for the more than 15,700 children diagnosed each year with cancer and all of the others who are fighting year after year. The plight of children stricken with cancer and the impact the disease has on families is heartbreaking.
And, while the organization I lead, CURE Childhood Cancer, along with many other nonprofit organizations around the country, are raising money to fund important initiatives, we need more allocation from the National Cancer Institute to really make a difference. Our efforts have tremendous value, and we are grateful for our research partners at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to name a few.
But, what we can do in the private sector on research and development to eradicate childhood cancers will always be too limited without significantly more federal funds. It is imperative the National Cancer Institute allocate more funds to childhood cancer research for these reasons:
1. Mortality. Too many children are dying. Pediatric cancer is the number one cause of death by disease among children. The idea that this is acceptable to us as a nation, an idea perpetuated by the lack of investment in solving the crisis, is shocking. We must increase the funding to save vulnerable, dependent children from the ravages of cancer. These children should have the opportunity to grow up and realize their positive impact on our world.
2. Incidence. The numbers of diagnosis for childhood cancer is on the increase. Since the 1970s, the incidence rate has been averaging 0.6% increase per year. This has resulted in an overall increase of 24% over the last 40 years. Yet, we are not responding to this rise in cancer rates among children by investing in cures for them. With incidence rates rising, so should the level of urgency with which we attack this problem.
3. Reality for survivors. For the children who are lucky enough to survive a cancer diagnosis, the overwhelming majority will still face serious medical challenges as a result of the treatment they received. More than 95% of childhood cancer survivors will have significant health related issues by the time they are 45 years of age. Survivors have a greater mortality rate due to the increased risk of liver and heart disease as well as a reoccurrence of the original or secondary cancer.
4. Limited treatment options. Believe it or not, we haven’t made much progress in drug development since 1980. That is 35 years ago!!! Since 1980, only three drugs have been developed specifically for use in children with cancer. Equally important, for many of the childhood cancers, the same treatments that existed in the 1970’s continue to be used without change today.
As a society, we have a moral obligation to care for and protect the vulnerable and dependent. No segment of our population is more important than our children. Cancer is a formidable enemy, ravaging thousands of children each and every day and harshly impacting communities everywhere. Children need and deserve the war on cancer to apply to those cancers that affect them. The National Cancer Institute must wage war on childhood cancers, investing significantly more resources in saving our children and preserving their futures. The time is now!
Kristin Connor is Executive Director of CURE Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta-based non-profit dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through funding targeted research and through support programs to help patients and their families. For more info, visit: www.CUREChildhoodCancer.org.