Doctors hope for the future of pediatric cancer research


KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WVLT) – 16,000 children a year will be diagnosed with cancer and about 4% of all federal cancer research funding goes to pediatric cancer.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is not a research hospital, but is part of a network of doctors called the Children’s Oncology Group.

COG group chairman and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital, Doug Hawkins, said they have come a long way with survival rates, but there was still a long way to go.

“A child diagnosed when I was born had a very minimal chance of survival,” Hawkins said. “Now we expect over 80% of children diagnosed today to survive at least five years, and most of those children will be cured.

Pediatric cancer is treated by the same methods as adult cases, but the difference is that the treatment affects children more because their bodies are still developing and the treatment can even cause a second cancer to grow after beating the first one. .

“We still have unfinished business, we are not curing all the children,” he said. “Not all children who survive five years will survive long term. Even children who are cured, many of them will experience long-term side effects from the treatment. “

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health problems because of current treatment options.

For Hawkins, the future of pediatric cancer research is moving away from chemotherapy which can increase cure rates and reduce long-term effects by using immunotherapy instead.

“Pediatric cancer is rare compared to adults, but I think the return on investment for a successfully treated child is very important and that is why it is important that we invest the right amount of resources. “

The right amount of resources. According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, only 4 percent of the federal government’s annual cancer funding goes to the treatment of childhood cancer.

“Well, is that enough,” Hawkins said. “This percentage is probably not as large as we have the resources to do high impact studies, change practices, which will lead to improved outcomes for children with cancer.”

The Children’s Oncology Group is trying to use the power of more minds to find a better, less toxic way to treat pediatric cancer that doesn’t have the long-lasting effect of chemotherapy.

“We want these innovations to be accessible to all children with cancer, not just those who are treated in big cities or large centers,” he said.

The resources of a large research hospital are not the same as those of a hospital like East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Since ETCH is part of the pediatric oncology group, they have the opportunity to access studies and treatment information. This means ETCH doctors can use research from a large research hospital like Seattle Children’s Hospital to treat children in eastern Tennessee.

Now, with more than 200 participating sites in the United States alone ready to work together, it is hoped that more progress will be made faster than before.

“There aren’t many areas in society or in medicine where people, hundreds of institutions, thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists all work together for the sole purpose of improving outcomes. for children with cancer, by being willing to collaborate and do it. selflessly, ”Hawkins said. “It’s the secret sauce of the Children’s Oncology Group. This is where we have made all the progress, is because we have worked together.

Hawkins said COG’s goal is not just to give a child a few more years, but to get them back to health and have them live another 50, 60, or even 70 years.

“We would all agree, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, that children with cancer deserve an investment from our society to improve their lot. “

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