Skip to content

    Jointly reported by WebMD and Georgia Health News

    Oct. 20, 2016 -- Childhood cancer has been on the rise.

    The numbers are small because any childhood cancer is rare. Just one of every 100 new cancer diagnoses in the United States is a childhood case.

    Still, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says there has been a significant increase in the overall rate of childhood cancers in recent decades -- up 27% since 1975 in kids under age 19, according to data collected by the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.

    The news comes as the overall incidence of adult cancers has fallen.

    The rise seems to be driven, in large part, by an increase in leukemia, which is up almost 35% since 1975. Leukemia is the most common cancer in kids. Soft tissue cancers, like those that develop in bones or muscles, are up nearly 42%. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is up 34%.

    “When you see an increase like that -- that fast -- in a short period of time, most likely it is going to be driven by some exposure to environmental factors,” says Catherine Metayer, MD, PhD, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. She and her team just won a $6 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study the causes of leukemia in children.

    “In the environment, a lot of things have changed. A lot of chemicals have been brought in. We are all exposed to many of them. So most likely the increase has been driven by some exposure to environmental factors, combined with genetics,” she says.

    The increase, strangely, hasn’t received much attention, Metayer says.

    “The word is not out,” she says. “I don’t know if because it’s a rare disease, it didn’t get as much attention compared to asthma and other conditions in children.”

     

     

    A Call for More Research Money

    Research into reasons behind the increase has been hamstrung by a lack of funding.

    Most of the funding for childhood cancer research comes from the National Cancer Institute. In 2013, the latest searchable budget year available, the NCI had a total budget of $4.9 billion, but spent just 4% of that -- roughly $185 million -- on childhood cancer. That statistic has spawned a rallying cry for more funding on social media, #morethanfour.