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How an Australian medical program is helping kids beat cancer

Blog post | 06 Mar 2023

More than 1,000 children (including infants and adolescents) are diagnosed with cancer each year. Devastatingly, about 3 of them die each week.

Childhood cancers are different to adult cancers. There’s usually no known cause of cancer in children. Some of the most common childhood cancers are brain cancer, leukemia, neuroblastoma, sarcoma and lymphoma.

Although the overall survival rate for childhood cancer is now over 80%, for some types of cancers it’s much lower.

Even if a child survives cancer, up to two thirds will have long-term health problems from their treatment such as organ dysfunction, neurocognitive deficits (like IQ changes and memory difficulties), impaired fertility and secondary cancers.

Enter the Zero Childhood Cancer program.

What is the Zero Childhood Cancer program?

The Zero Childhood Cancer program is the first and only program in Australia to use precision medicine (also known as personalised medicine) to help improve treatment and outcomes.

Currently, precision medicine is only available to children with high-risk cancers. However, this program is being extended to all children with cancer by the end of 2023.

What is precision medicine and how does it work?

To understand the cancer a child has and to help determine the best treatment, the child’s tumour needs to be analysed. Precision medicine does just that. It analyses the child’s cancer to look for any genetic mutations or alterations that could be driving the cancer’s growth.

Professor David Ziegler, the chair of clinical trials for Zero Childhood Cancer and a paediatric oncologist, explains, “Analysing a child’s cancer at a genomic level can lead to a whole new way of understanding that child’s cancer. This can lead to a more accurate diagnosis, prognosis and risk stratification, and in some cases, a refined treatment approach.”

When medical professionals better understand a child’s cancer, they can look for a drug that’s effective against that child’s cancer. Ideally, the treatment targets the child’s cancer cells and leaves their healthy cells unharmed, to minimise any damaging side effects.

Who can enrol in the program?

Before, precision medicine was only available to children with the highest-risk cancers. These children face less than a 30% chance of survival.

Now, the program is expanding in stages to all children with cancer, beginning with children diagnosed with brain cancer. The program will become available to children with all other types of childhood cancers as the year progresses.

Speak to your child’s treating oncologist about participating in the program.

For more information

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