Brain tumours are the second most common type of cancer in children.
In a number of countries including Canada and the U.S., brain tumours are now the leading cause of cancer-related death among children and adolescents under age 20.
Despite research advances in the causes and treatment of brain tumours, the survival rate from brain tumours is still lower than that of other forms of cancer.
Childhood cancer is consistently underfunded, accounting for only five per cent of all cancer research funding in Canada today. Many researchers rely on private funds to get their studies off the ground.
Childhood brain tumours are one of the most underserved areas of cancer research.
Children not only suffer from brain tumours, but also from the consequences of having a severe neurological illness with many behavioral and cognitive problems even if the treatment has been successful.
Up to 1/3 of brain tumours arise in very young children (under age 3). These “infant” brain tumours are particularly difficult to treat as the developing brain and body are very susceptible to both short and long term side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre, located at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, is the only facility in Canada dedicated to paediatric brain tumour research.
The Brain Tumour Research Centre is one of three sites in North America that is classified by the Paediatric Brain Tumor Foundation as a “PBTF Research Institute”.
SickKids Neuro-oncology Program is recognized as one of the top three in the world!
Although radiation can cure some children, it has lifelong consequences. With even focal or restricted radiation, they may develop other cancers in the future. If the whole brain is radiated at a young age, the intellectual development of the child is significantly compromised. Many children who survive after radiation treatment never complete formal schooling and do not have enough skills to live independent adult lives; the economic and emotional burden of raising a survivor is also enormous.
Although radiation is particularly harmful to the young child’s brain, it has been shown that a brain radiated at any age will be less effective.
Our research team is learning that for young children with ATRT, radiation can be omitted safely in up to 40% of patients without comprising cure.
Imagine if researchers can find a way to make that apply to even more patients, and then imagine being able to extrapolate that knowledge to spare radiation in older children and adults!
Before any new treatment can be made widely available to patients, it must be studied in clinical trials (research studies) and found to be safe and effective in treating disease. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard.
Clinical trials are the final step in a long process that begins with research in a lab. Before any new treatment is used with people in clinical trials, researchers work for many years to understand its effects on cancer cells in the lab and in animals. They also try to figure out the side effects it may cause.
Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials.
Clinical trials are standard practice in cancer treatment for children, adolescents, and young adults; about 60% of children with cancer are enrolled in a trial, as opposed to less than 5% of adult patients.
Brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer-related death among children and adolescents under age 20.
Cancers of the brain and nervous system (BNS) are the second most common type of childhood cancer.