Outcomes from childhood cancer have greatly improved in the U.S. over the past few decades -- in fact, five-year survival rates are over 80 percent.
But unfortunately, there are many more early deaths than we previously thought. Research conducted between the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Colorado has found that early deaths from some pediatric cancers are up to four times as common as clinical trial reports have led us to believe.
Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the new study used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database and found 36,337 cases of pediatric cancer between 1992 and 2011.
Of these patients, 555, or 1.5 percent, died within one month of being diagnosed with cancer. Babies below a year in age were much more likely to die soon after diagnosis. Those who were black or Hispanic had a greater risk, even beyond the influence of socioeconomic status.
"Babies tend to get aggressive cancers, it's hard to tell when they're getting sick, and some are even born with cancers that have already progressed. These factors combine to make very young age the strongest predictor of early death in our study," said the study's senior author, Dr. Adam Green, who is a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The study also found that the rate of early deaths due to pediatric cancers is much higher than we think.
One example shows that a clinical trial against childhood acute myeloid leukemia
(AML) reported early death in 16 of 1,022 young patients, or 1.6 percent of these cases. However, the SEER database, which collects about 15 percent of all cancer outcomes across the U.S., shows 106 early deaths in 1,698 diagnoses, or 6.2 percent of all cases. That's nearly four times as high as previously reported, and it isn't just with AML cases -- the comparison of early deaths reported in clinical trials to those in the SEER database showed that early death was higher for all cancer subtypes.