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Progress in Childhood Cancer Treatments

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

The rate of children surviving cancer is higher now than at any other point in history. Doctors have made great advancements in their efforts to save children from the aftereffects of chemotherapy and radiation, as well.

USA Today reports a new study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting revealed that the death rate 15 years after a pediatric cancer diagnosis is down by half since the 1970s. Everyone in the study was said to have survived their original cancer by living for at least five years after their diagnosis.

The problem has been with the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and how they affect children's survival rate by causing heart and lung problems, or even different forms of cancer. Approximately 41 percent of the 4,000 deaths during the study were due to "late effects" from treatment.

However, numbers fell in every area during this study — original cancers coming back, treatment-related cancers occurring, or heart and lung problems occurring.

Doctors have been working to make treatments gentler for children. They have reduced the amount of radiation in treatment plans and, for some children, removed it entirely.

Children with high-risk leukemia have long been recommended to undergo chemotherapy as well as radiation to the brain. However, the radiation was causing memory and learning problems in young children. Now, doctors are trying to avoid brain radiation completely to save children from long-lasting effects and help them in other ways.

Doctors are also taking better care of cancer survivors. Clinics for survivors can now be found at children's hospitals, where cancer specialists observe patients for years after treatment, monitoring their health.

Up to 80 percent of children in the U.S. are now surviving cancer, but the risk of creating more life-threatening health issues in these same children is still cause for concern.

"We've always struggled with the fact that therapy that beats the first cancer is causing problems down the road," said Gregory Armstrong, principal researcher of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. "It's the cost of cure."

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