Europe should take all possible measures to enhance the existing collaboration between paediatric oncologists, both in the treatment and research of childhood cancers. Paediatric oncologists are concerned that current and proposed EU legislations could jeopardise this collaboration and, as a consequence, could impact on the provision of optimal treatment for children with cancer. This was the warning given at a Lunch Debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France (on Wednesday 27th October) organised jointly by Dr. Peter Liese, MEP, and the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS) and its society of paediatric oncologists (SIOPE).
“As cancers in young people are relatively rare, treatment requires a particular concentration of resources and expertise at EU level”, explained Prof. Michael Stevens of SIOPE. This is why paediatric oncologists have a long tradition of collaborating both in aspects of cancer care as well as in academic clinical research. However, they urgently need the support of the EU decision-makers to be able to continue this absolutely essential collaborative approach. Addressing an audience of MEPs, European Commission officials, health professionals and journalists, Prof. Stevens described how, “although cancer under 18 years of age may be relatively rare, it is still the most common medical cause of death after the first year of life and occurs at a rate of about 175 cases per million young people (aged less than 18 years) each year and, cumulatively, the individual risk approaches 1:500 by the age of 18.” “For countries where the best survival rates of approximately 70% can be achieved, 1:700 young adults is a survivor of childhood cancer”. “Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that whilst there was, approximately, a 50% reduction in mortality in the years from 1970 - 1990, there has been a further reduction in mortality of only about 2% in the past 10 years”.
As a consequence of its low incidence and its unique biology, childhood cancers provide very different challenges to doctors and carers involved in treating the disease. However, with optimal treatment, significantly higher cure rates can be achieved in children than can be achieved for most forms of adult cancer. “To enable these cure rates to be widely achieved across Europe (rather than in a few countries only, as is presently the case) there need to be urgent changes made to a range of issues that currently hold back the progress of delivery of quality treatment for paediatric cancer across the entire European Union”, explained Prof. Stevens.
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