Irish child cancer death rates among the lowest in Europe

New report also shows that the number of rare childhood cancer cases is increasing

Fewer than 25 children aged under 15 have died from cancer each year since the 1990s, compared to 50-60 from the 1950s to the 1970s

Fewer than 25 children aged under 15 have died from cancer each year since the 1990s, compared to 50-60 from the 1950s to the 1970s

 

Death rates for child cancers are tumbling as treatment options and survival rates improve, according to a new report.

The incidence of rare childhood cancers continues to increase, according to the National Cancer Registry, but this is due to population increases and better testing.

Irish death rates are now among the lowest in Europe, though incidence of the disease and survival rates are close to the average.

Since the mid- to late-1960s, the death rate for childhood cancer has been falling by up to 3 per cent per year, it says.

Fewer than 25 children aged under 15 have died from cancer each year since the 1990s, compared to 50-60 from the 1950s to the 1970s.

“Although childhood cancers are thankfully rare, their impact on families is high, and the potential loss of years of life averages much higher than for adult cancers. Monitoring of trends in these cancers is therefore important,” says Prof Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the National Cancer Registry.

“While incidence appears to be increasing, the consensus internationally is that this may, to a large extent, reflect improvements in diagnosis.”

An average of 137 cases of cancer a year were diagnosed in children between 1994-2014, the report shows.

Yearly numbers increased from an average of 117 up to the year 2000 to 163 since then.

Bigger increase for girls

The registry says a real trend of rising underlying risk of cancer cannot be ruled out, but it is likely most of the increase is the result of improvements in diagnosis.

The number of leukaemias and lymphomas diagnosed is static, but there has been a significant increase in cancers of the brain and central nervous system.

The five-year survival rates for childhood cancer now stands at 81 per cent.

There have been improvements in survival from leukaemias, especially lymphoid leukaemia, and lymphomas, over the past 20 years, but the main improvements predate 1994, according to the registry.

Almost 2,900 children were diagnosed with cancer between 1994 and 2014 and 2,300 of these were still alive at the end of this period.

Leukaemias accounted for 31 per cent of cases and brain or central nervous system tumours for another 24 per cent.

Prof Clough-Gorr says further work is needed to follow up the growing numbers of survivors of childhood cancer, who may experience long-term health consequences related to their treatment.