The rate at which children in the United States are dying from cancer has declined by 20 percent during the past 15 years, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Major therapeutic advances in treating some forms of cancer, particularly leukemia, may have resulted in increased survivorship,” says the report, which is based on 1999-2014 mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System.
The five-year survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, has, for example, gone from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to about 90 percent in the late 2000s.
A statistical reversal
In fact, the treatment of leukemia has improved so much that brain cancer has replaced leukemia as the deadliest form of childhood cancer in the U.S.
In both 1999 and 2015, slightly more than half of all cancer deaths among young people aged 1 to 19 were attributable to either leukemia or brain cancer. In 1999, about 30 percent of those deaths were due to leukemia, while about 24 percent were due to brain cancer.
By 2014, however, “these percentages reversed and brain cancer was the most common site, accounting for 29.9% of total cancer deaths,” the report points out.
Fortunately, childhood cancers are rare. Each year, about 16,000 children and teenagers are diagnosed with cancer and almost 2,000 die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Still, any diagnosis of cancer in a child is one diagnosis too many.
And even though the death rates for childhood cancer have fallen, the overall incidence of cancer in children and teens has risen slightly, from 16 per 100,000 in 1999 to 18 per 100,000 in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.
Here are some other details from the CDC’s report:
- Although cancer death rates declined for both boys and girls between 1999 and 2014, the decline was slightly greater for girls (22 percent vs. 18 percent). Overall, boys continue to be more likely to die from cancer than girls.
- Young people in all age groups (1 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14 and 15 to 19) were less likely to die of cancer in 2014 than in 1999. The decline was greatest (26 percent), however, in children aged 5 to 9. Teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 had the highest cancer death rate in 2014, although their rate dropped 22 percent from 1999.
- No statistically significant differences were found among the childhood cancer death rates for black and white children and teens. Young people in both racial groups were less likely to die of cancer in 1999 than in 2014. The rate fell 17 percent for white children and adolescents and 23 percent for black children and adolescents.
- After brain cancer and leukemia, the other common sites of cancer among young people were bone and articular cartilage (10.1 percent of all cases in 2014), thyroid and other endocrine glands (9 percent) and mesothelial and soft tissue (7.7 percent). Along with brain cancer and leukemia, these cancers represented 8 out of 10 cancer deaths among children and adolescents in 2014.