Childhood and cancer. Two words that don't seem to go together. And yet, cancer is the leading cause of death past infancy for kids, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Dealing with this cruel disease is undoubtedly beyond difficult for the families affected, but now a U.K. study offers some good news just in time for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September. Due to better treatments and monitoring, childhood cancer survivors are now living longer, healthier lives than ever before.
Reuters reports that researchers looked at 60 years of data on a whooping 35,000 childhood cancer survivors, and found that fewer kids are dying as a result of cancer or the after-effects of treatment. This was true of all forms of childhood cancer, according to the study's lead author, Miranda Fidler, from the Center for Childhood Cancer Survivor Studies at the University of Birmingham.
In fact, the leading cause of death for childhood cancer survivors once they reach age 60 is cardiovascular disease, just like the rest of the population, Reuters reports.
Still, it's worth noting that of the childhood cancer cases studied, 13 percent of the children passed away—either from their cancer recurring, a new cancer developing, or due to circulatory complications—which reflects a mortality rate more than nine times greater than the general population. So clearly, despite improvements in chemotherapies and bone marrow transplants, we still have a long way to go.
And yet, researchers noted that children treated more recently die less frequently. According to Reuters, 70 percent fewer so-called "excess deaths" took place among survivors treated between 1990 and 2006, versus those treated before 1970. And similarly, kids treated after 1990 had 70 percent fewer deaths from recurrence or progression of their cancers. What's more, the longer a patient lived, the less likely their death would be caused by their original cancer.
The takeaway: It's worth celebrating the victories big and small in the fight against childhood cancer. And the future promises more hope for families as treatments improve.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.