Deaths of children and adolescents from cancer fall 24% in two decades. But not for Latinos

Advances in treating childhood cancer are a success story in modern medicine. But over the past decade, those gains have stalled for young blacks and Hispanics, driving a gap in mortality rates, according to a new report released Thursday.

Overall, childhood cancer is rare and treatments have improved dramatically in recent decades, saving lives.

Death rates were about the same for black, Hispanic, and white children in 2001, and all declined over the next decade. But over the next 10 years, only the rate for white children fell slightly more.

“You can have the most sophisticated scientific advances, but if we cannot offer them to all communities equally, then we will not have met our goal as a nation,” said Dr. Sharon Castellino, a pediatric cancer specialist at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, who was not involved in the new report.

Castellino added that the complexity of new cancer treatments, such as gene therapy, which can cure some children with leukemia, can be a financial burden on families and be an impediment to receiving care.

Microscope of human cells with acute myelocytic leukemia.National Cancer Institute via AP

“You need at least one parent to quit their job and be there 24/7, and then resolve the situation for the rest of their children,” Castellino said. “It’s not that families don’t want to do it. It’s just difficult.”

More social workers are needed to help families submit paperwork to help obtain job-protected licenses and ensure the child’s health insurance is up to date and does not expire.

Inequality in numbers

The overall cancer death rate among children and adolescents in the United States fell 24% over the two decades, from 2.75 to 2.10 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The 2021 rate per 10,000 was 2.38 for black youth, 2.36 for Hispanics, and 1.99 for whites.

Childhood cancer, nearly incurable 50 years ago, is now survived by most patients, especially those with leukemia. The leading cause of cancer death in children is now brain cancer, above leukemia.

Each year in the United States, about 15,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer. More than 85% live at least five years.

The improvement in survival rates is due to research collaboration between more than 200 hospitals, explained Dr. Paula Aristizabal of the University of California, San Diego, who is trying to include more Hispanic children, who are underrepresented in research. at Rady Children’s Hospital.

“Equity means that we provide support adapted to each family,” Aristizabal highlighted.

The National Cancer Institute is working to collect data on every childhood cancer patient with the goal of linking each child to the latest care. The effort could improve equity, added Dr. Emily Tonorezos, who leads the institute’s work on cancer survivorship.

The CDC report is “disturbing and discouraging”, he claimed. “It gives us a roadmap for where we need to go next.”