September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) which takes place every year to increase awareness of cancer in children and to support families affected.
Cancer in children
In the UK and Ireland, estimates suggest that every week oncologists diagnose around five children with cancer. The cure rate for children is much higher than for most adult cancers, with 82% of children having a five-year survival rate. However, some cancer types, e.g. neuroblastomas, have a much lower cure rate and often return after initial treatment. As a result, survival rates in these patients are lower and treatment options are very limited. Therefore, further research is critical. Cancer sadly remains the number one cause of death by disease for children. Around 230 children die each year from cancer.
For children, cancer therapies typically involve a combination of chemotherapy drugs, surgery and radiotherapy. However, if the child relapses, the treatment options are even more limited. Many childhood clinical trials test combinations of therapies already in use, something which researchers are keen to change. Now, with partial funding from Cancer Research UK this ambition is becoming a reality.
A new hope
Children and young people in the UK with cancer who relapse will now have access to new personalised treatments quicker. Experts will sequence tumours through the Stratified Medicine Paediatrics programme led by The Institute of Cancer Research in London. Oncologists will then use this molecular information to match patients to treatments on the ESMART trial. ESMART is a European trial currently being rolled out across the UK. It involves testing multiple new targeted drugs and treatment combinations that have not previously been available for children and young people. Sites at The Royal Marsden in London (lead site) and also Manchester Children’s Hospital have now opened. Sites in Birmingham, Newcastle and Great Ormond Street Hospital are due to open in the coming months.
Dr Lynley Marshall, Chief Investigator and UK lead of the ESMART trial stated:
“We’ve spent years trying to get a more targeted approach to children’s cancers in place, and we’re really proud to have helped develop ESMART and to have it available in the UK. The knowledge that we’re building up about paediatric cancers and targets and helping to drive future treatments and future trials is really exciting and will really help patients.
More importantly, it brings hope for families that may have lived through multiple relapses. The fact of just knowing that there’s something else that they can try with the real possibility of benefit makes all the difference.”
This trial provides hope for children and families who have exhausted all other options. The team hope that the samples taken during the programme will help improve the diagnosis and monitoring of children’s cancer.
Image credit: By alex_skp – canva.com