In Alabama, 150 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Childhood cancers are the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States, with approximately 2,500 children dying from the disease annually.
But there is hope. While incidence rates for some types of childhood cancers have remained steady over the last 20 years, five-year survival rates have dramatically improved. Today, a child diagnosed with cancer stands an 80 percent chance of beating the disease.
“That’s up from 50 percent just 20 years ago,” says Raymond Watts, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. “However, that still leaves 20 percent of children who don’t survive. So even though we’ve made tremendous improvements, we still face significant challenges.”
To address this, the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, Children’s of Alabama, the Children’sOncology Group and the National Cancer Institute recently formed the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. This unique partnership is focused on unifying local and national resources to improve and enhance childhood cancer care, research and education.
"Our goal is finding a total cure through research and development of innovative therapies,” Dr. Watts says. “We’re also researching ways to lessen the risks of treatment, both short-term and long-term, while allowing children to return to normal activities after their treatments are complete.”
Because while survival rates for childhood cancers have improved, they do come with a cost. Two-thirds of survivors face at least one chronic health condition, and as many as 25 percent face a late-effect considered severe or life-threatening. Some late effects of childhood cancers include: infertility, cardiotoxicity (heart problems at an early age), learning difficulties, audiovisual problems, hearing loss, and the most frightening possibility, second cancers.
Supporting research is critical to eliminating childhood cancer as well as the long-term effects that survivors face. Only about 4 percent of the National Institutes for Health's annual budget is currently dedicated to pediatric cancer research. You can make a difference by making a gift on our website or by visiting Children's of Alabama.