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Brain Cancer Now The No. 1 Cancer Killer In Kids And Teens

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Leukemia is now the leading cause of cancer deaths among children and teenagers, unseating top ranker brain cancer.

In the late 1990s, close to one-third of all cancer deaths in patients ages one to 19 were due to leukemia, with a quarter caused by brain cancer. But by 2014, those numbers switched, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sally Curtin, the lead author on the report, says,

It’s a milestone moment, a kind of changing of the guard.

She says the change is more because there have been less deaths from leukemia rather than more deaths from brain cancer, the Washington Post reports.

Brain cancer deaths surpassed leukemia in 2011, but it was not until 2014 that scientists had enough statistical data to conclude the variation a “true finding,” Curtin explains.

As a whole, cancer mortality rates among children and teenagers fell 20% from 1999 to 2014, in keeping with a long-term trend.

The drop in leukemia deaths – once a globally feared form of cancer – can be attributed to the major advances oncologists and researchers have made in recent years to develop more effective chemotherapy treatments and in finding the best ways to utilize radiation and bone marrow transplants in patients. This is according to Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society.

She adds that in comparison, brain cancers are much more difficult to treat because doctors have to be extremely careful not to damage healthy tissue when operating, and because the blood-brain barrier prevents some medications from entering the brain.

Ann Kingston at the National Brain Tumor Society says that these current brain cancer death numbers are “not acceptable” and that hopefully the problem can be addressed through an increased use of new techniques like profiling tumors, targeted therapies and tumor-specific drugs.

Ward and Kingston both point out that any form of cancer therapy, whether radiation, surgery or chemotherapy, can often bring on other long-term developmental and cognitive disabilities in survivors. They hope that researchers can find ways to decrease the harm these treatments can cause.

Aside from leukemia and brain cancer, other cancers commonly afflicting children involve bones, the thyroid and endocrine glands and soft tissue.

Meanwhile, the fight against cancer continues. A blue-ribbon committee of the National Cancer Institute asked for focus on immunotherapies that can help children.


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