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UK survival for children’s bone cancer lowest in Western Europe

by British Journal of Cancer | News

7 January 2009

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Survival for childhood bone cancer is slightly lower in the UK than in any other Western European country, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer* today (Wednesday).

Although five-year survival from childhood cancer in the UK has now reached 75 per cent, and for some types of cancer survival is over 90 per cent, survival for osteosarcoma – the most common type of childhood bone cancer – has not improved in the last 20 years, remaining at about 60 per cent.

The researchers, funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust, believe that this could be due to later diagnosis of the disease and different ways of treating osteosarcoma in the UK.

The study, which looked at all cases of childhood bone cancer between 1981 and 2000 in northern England and the West Midlands, found that around 60 per cent of patients survived five years or more.

Around 65 per cent of childhood osteosarcoma patients survive a diagnosis of the disease across the rest of Western Europe. Eastern Europe had a lower survival figure than the UK of around 43 per cent.

Dr Richard McNally, lead author based at Newcastle University, said: “Our statistics suggest that the UK has slightly lower overall survival rates for osteosarcoma than other countries in Western Europe.

“We know that treatment options for this disease vary across Europe. For example, a child diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the UK may be given a different course of treatment to a patient in Germany, where they tend to be given a more intense course of radiotherapy and surgery.”

“Since 1997, specialists in the UK have been working with their counterparts across Europe to standardise and improve the treatment and management of children with cancer. Nowadays nearly all trials involving British patients have been developed in collaboration with European colleagues and are open across many European countries – so we hope to see survival rates improving in the future.”

Professor Tim Eden – Teenage Cancer Trust’s Professor of Teenage and Young Adult Cancer – and co-author of the study, said: “It’s important that collaboration in cancer research continues so that UK survival for osteosarcoma catches up with the rest of Europe. Delays in diagnosis may also be contributing to the difference in survival and it’s crucial that more research is carried out to confirm if this is the case.”

Professor Ian Lewis of the Scientific Advisory Panel for the Bone Cancer Research Trust, which funded this study, said: “The results from the UK are obviously of real concern and emphasise why it is so important to fund research aimed at improving our understanding about this and to develop new treatments. The Bone Cancer Research Trust is a new charity formed with exactly these aims. We must not be happy with second best.”

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, said: “Overall, seven out of ten children with cancer are now successfully treated, compared with less than three out of ten in the 1960s. Research like this is crucial in helping to identify areas where we need to make improvements to ensure every child with cancer receives the best treatment.

“We know that the best way of improving survival for children with cancer is through research and supporting clinical trials. Cancer Research UK is the largest funder of children’s cancer research in the UK, and we are committed to ensuring these differences in survival are addressed. We need to invest more in international clinical trials to establish the best treatments for bone cancer and we are committed to curing cancer in all children, while minimising the long term physical and psychological side effects they sometimes experience with treatment.”


For media enquiries please contact the BJC press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.