New government data has revealed that brain cancer is now the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among children.
The alarming statistic does have one positive twist; brain tumors are not becoming more common in young people. Leukemia, which was previously the number one cancer resulting in death among kids, is currently less deadly than it has been in the past, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In general, the cancer death rate has fallen 20% among young ones between 1999 and 2014, writes Maggie Fox for NBC News.
The most prevalent childhood cancers are still brain tumors and leukemia, which cause over one-half of all cancer deaths, report Sally Curtin and colleagues at the NCHS, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Three out of 10 cancer deaths among children and adolescents aged 1-19 years in 1999 were due to leukemia, the most common site, whereas about one in four were due to brain cancer," said the team.
"By 2014, these percentages reversed and brain cancer was the most common site, accounting for 29.9 of total cancer deaths."
The problem is that brain cancer patients face the highest rates of mortality because research that has made tremendous advances in recent years has not focused on pediatric brain tumors, so fewer advances have been made and less clinical benefit has ensued.
Leukemia mortality rates are diminishing because of improved treatments starting in the 1970s, which caused the five-year survival rate for acute childhood lymphoblastic leukemia to be raised from less than 10% in the 1960s to approximately 90% in 2003-2009.
Although children's cancer mortality rates have declined, it is still the most common cause of death for kids in the US.
"In 2014, it is estimated that 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 will die of the disease in the United States," the National Cancer Institute says.
Scientists do not yet know why, but boys are roughly one-third more likely to die from cancer than girls. Race seems not to make a difference considering the fact that black children are not more apt to suffer from cancer than white youngsters are.
Childhood cancers can be aggravatingly mysterious and, sadly, the same processes that are involved in helping children grow can quickly go awry and cause tumors, stated the American Cancer Society.
A few types of cancer are genetic. About 25 to 30% of eye cancer cases, retinoblastoma, are due to an inherited mutation in a gene known as RB1.
Other pediatric cancers that were deadly in 2014 data include bone and cartilage cancer, thyroid and other endocrine gland cancers, and mesothelial and soft tissue cancer.
The continuing decrease in the number of deaths from leukemia, and cancer in kids overall, are in part due to the larger participation of pediatric patients in clinical trials, announced Curtin.
"If you ask doctors, they'll probably point out that more kids are being treated at specialized centers and taking part in clinical trials," she said.
Dr. Andrew Kung is the chairperson of pediatrics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He noted that chemotherapy does not "cross the blood-brain barrier." This "barrier" is a network of specialized cells that keep substances that are toxic out of the brain, writes Amy Norton for WebMD.
Elizabeth Ward, senior vice president for intramural research at the American Cancer Society, says along with chemotherapy, more effective ways to use bone marrow transplants and radiation have been breakthroughs in minimizing leukemia deaths in kids, writes The Washington Post's Laurie McGinley.
Ward and Ann Kingston, the director of research and science policy at the National Brain Tumor Society, pointed out that cancer therapies can lead to developmental and long-term cognitive problems for the youngsters who survive cancer. They want researchers to find ways to alleviate the dangers of treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.