Childhood Cancer: A CPRIT Priority

  • Published: September 11, 2017

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month so this is an opportune time to ask a difficult question - why do kids get cancer?

“Honestly, for most we don’t exactly know,” says CPRIT Chief Science Officer, Dr. Jim Willson.

Genetics is one area of investigation; some children inherit DNA mutations from a parent that increase their risk of certain types of cancer, syndromes and other health or developmental problems. The reasons for DNA changes that cause most childhood cancers, however, are not well understood. Environmental factors including exposures and lifestyle behaviors may also be cancer-causing factors, however, their role in childhood cancers is still not clear.

Children, a vulnerable population, deserve special attention. Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children between the ages of 5 to 14 in Texas. The Texas Cancer Registry reports that in 2016, an estimated 1,516 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Texas children and adolescents between the ages of 0 to 19, with an estimated 274 deaths. Nationwide, the American Cancer Society projects that 10,270 new cases of childhood cancer will be diagnosed, leading to 1,190 deaths, most commonly from leukemia, brain, lymphoma, soft tissue cancers, neuroblastoma, kidney (Wilms tumor), bone cancer, and gonadal (testicular and ovarian) tumors.

The number of new cases and death rates alone are enough to raise childhood cancer as a public health priority, but two additional facts bring the issue into sharper focus. Through the National Cancer Institute, 96 percent of the nation’s cancer research budget is focused on adult cancers, only four percent on children’s cancers and although it’s improved over the past 30 years due to better treatments, the overall 5-year survival rate for childhood cancers is approximately 80 percent.

These numbers have CPRIT’s attention. In response, our agency issued a targeted request for proposals and to date 10 percent of its portfolio is going to childhood cancer research, more than double the national rate.