Data provides new childhood cancer clues

A national childhood cancer data base is expected to help improve diagnosis and treatment.
A national childhood cancer data base is expected to help improve diagnosis and treatment.

Australia has produced the world's first national data set on childhood cancer detection and survival rates in the hope it can help better inform medical researchers about earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer Australia, the federal government's cancer control agency, has pulled together the data on 16 of the most common types of childhood cancers to find out which ones are diagnosed early and what their survival rates are.

Cancer is the main cause of death from disease among Aussie kids, with about 100 lives lost each year. On top of that, 750 kids are diagnosed with cancer annually.

Cancer Australia manager Robert Long says the data shows that 12 out of the 16 most common childhood cancers are likely to be diagnosed at an early stage.

The most common form of the disease among kids, acute lymphoid leukaemia, is diagnosed early in 90 per cent of cases and most children are still alive five years later.

However more than half of all children with neuroblastoma - a form of cancer that affects the nervous system - aren't diagnosed until the disease is quite advanced.

While the overall five-year survival rates for children with cancer were found to be reasonably high, around the 85 per cent mark, there were some exceptions for cancers diagnosed at an advanced stage.

A similar pattern was found for neuroblastoma and some sarcomas.

For children diagnosed with later stage medulloblastoma, their chances of still being alive after five years was 44 per cent compared to 80 per cent for those who received an early diagnosis.

Mr Long said the data set fills a major gap in national cancer reporting and may help medical researchers understand where efforts should be focused to improve outcomes for children with cancer.

"Understanding how early you can diagnose a cancer and what the outcomes are at a population level are big information gaps for us as a nation," he told AAP.

"Going forward we will have additional years of data to report so we can better understand whether outcomes for children with cancer are improving."

The data is based on figures collected between 2006 and 2010 by the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry from hospitals across the country.

Cancer Australia worked with the Cancer Council Queensland to develop a way to standardise the information, and hopes that other health bodies overseas will one day be able to use a similar method to improve their understanding of the disease.

Cancer Australia plans to release more data on childhood cancer diagnosis and survival rates for data between 2006 and 2014 early next year.

Australian Associated Press