Cancer knows no boundaries and as such affects children throughout the world. It is estimated that about 160,000 children world-wide are diagnosed with cancer each year, and approximately 90,000 will eventually die from their illness.1 The exact number of new cases is not known because the number of children with cancer is not registered in many countries.
In developed countries like the United States , Canada , Western European countries, Japan and Australia , cancer remains the most common disease killer of children. In developing countries, more than one in two children diagnosed with cancer are likely to die.2 This is because cancer is detected late and only a small proportion of children have access to the comprehensive cancer treatments currently available in the developed world. Childhood cancer is becoming a more important health issue for these countries and the world community as infectious diseases and diarrhea become increasingly eliminated.
In the U.S. and other developed countries, the 1970s-80s brought the advent of chemotherapy ‘cocktails’ applied to childhood cancer, where toxic compounds that preferentially killed the tumor cells kept many children from death. In spite of tens of millions of public dollars being allocated towards clinical trial research in the U.S. in the past decade, there has been no change in survivorship of childhood cancer in the past 10 years.2 From 1975 to 1998 the annual death rate from childhood cancer in the U.S. declined at a rate of 2.7% per year. Despite very aggressive therapies that approach the limits of tolerability for the child, the overall survival rate for childhood cancer has remained unchanged since 1998. One in four children who are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. will die within five years of their diagnosis, and 30% of those that do survive have severe side effects, including cognitive deficits, kidney failure, heart failure, and secondary cancers caused from the traditional toxic treatments. Because of the high level of toxicity associated with many current treatments and the plateau in survivorship rates, future success is dependent upon the development of new therapeutic approaches.