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More than five thousand children saved since 70s thanks to better cancer treatment

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 November 2011

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At least 5,600 more children have survived for at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer than would have done if survival rates had remained as they were in the early 1970s, according to new statistics from Cancer Research UK.

The figures show that since the 1970s, around 4,800 additional children* with leukaemia – the most common childhood cancer – survived their disease for at least five years. In the early 70s, 33 per cent of children survived their disease. Today survival rates for leukaemia have risen to more than 80 per cent. 

This increase in survival is largely due to the development of combination chemotherapy, which involves tackling the disease with a number of chemotherapy drugs. Cancer Research UK researchers played a key role in the clinical trials that proved the benefits of these treatments. 

Cancer Research UK scientists also made a vital leap forward when they discovered that there are several different types of childhood leukaemia. This breakthrough led to better treatments for the different forms of the disease, helping to save many more lives.

Similar improvements have been seen for other childhood cancers. Since 1971, survival rates from neuroblastoma have risen from 17 to 64 per cent and it is estimated that around 800 more children survived their disease for more than five years due to this increase.**

One of the reasons for this improvement was the development of a new way of giving chemotherapy, in higher doses and shorter intervals between treatments. Cancer Research UK was involved in this study, which improved survival rates by two thirds.

This groundbreaking work continues today through the Cancer Research UK Children’s Cancer Trials Team (CCTT), based in Birmingham. The CCTT coordinates clinical trials in 21 centres across the UK. These trials bring cutting edge science from the lab to the bedside, making innovative new treatments available to children with cancer. 


The new figures from Cancer Research UK are revealed as the charity launches its annual Little Stars Awards in partnership with TK Maxx that recognise the bravery of children who have undergone cancer treatment.

Chloe Gambrill, 13, from Ramsgate, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2005 at the age of six. Her mum Kelly said: “When we were told Chloe had leukaemia it was devastating. We knew that something wasn’t right but we never expected it to be cancer. It’s something you hear about that happens to other people’s children.

“Chloe’s treatment lasted for three years and it was hard going because it made her so unwell and there were times when we didn’t know if she would make it. Fortunately she responded really well to the combination of chemotherapy she received and to know that Cancer Research UK is continuing to fund research into children’s cancers means everything to us because without it, Chloe would not be here today.”

Kelly nominated her daughter for a Little Star Award to help raise her spirits while she was going through treatment. Relatives and friends of young cancer patients and survivors from across the country are being urged to nominate them now for special recognition of their courage. Last year more than 200 children from across the UK received a Little Star Award from Cancer Research UK and sponsor TK Maxx.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “More children are surviving cancer than ever before and our efforts are continuing to make an even bigger impact. We are funding a trial to offer a pioneering new treatment to children with a particularly aggressive form of neuroblastoma that could help even more beat the disease. Childhood cancers are difficult to research, with relatively few children diagnosed each year. But our researchers are continuing our efforts to find ways to diagnose the disease earlier and looking for new drugs and making the existing treatments even more effective.”


For more information contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.