Cancer is the leading disease-related cause of death in children in the United States. Yet pediatric cancer is often left behind when it comes to funding research and developing new drugs. Not only does this give short shrift to children with cancer, but it also threatens to rob us of advances that could benefit cancer patients of all ages.
That’s what I and fellow members of the Coalition for Pediatric Medical Research told the staff of Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the cancer “moonshot.” We recently met in Biden’s Washington office to make the case that childhood cancer must be represented as the government considers ways to propel cancer research.
Six decades ago, the first major breakthrough in the treatment of cancer came when Dr. Sidney Farber used an experimental drug to treat leukemia in children. Some went into remission — a medical first. Chemotherapy was born, revolutionizing the care of both children and adults with cancer.
Since then, overall cure rates for childhood cancers have risen to 80 percent. Some pediatric cancers post cure rates of 90 percent, while others remain difficult or nearly impossible to cure. At the same time, a majority of childhood cancer survivors experience harmful, lifelong complications of the treatments that saved them. Such late effects can be far more devastating to the survivor diagnosed at age 5 than the survivor diagnosed at age 65.