The newest figures from the Office of National statistics have been released, saying that survival rates have improved but what does this really mean?

As a whole, survival rates are improving when you look at all childhood cancers grouped together. In fact on the surface, the current 82.9% survival rate sounds quite good until you think of what this means.

What do survival rates mean?

When you read something on survival rates for childhood cancer, usually the statistics quote 5 year survival rates.

This is not whether a child will grow up to be a healthy adult or even be cured of the disease. 5 year survival means just that, that the child is still alive 5 years after diagnosis. They may be palliative, severely disabled or life threatening health problems as a result of their treatment, but they are still classed as a success - surviving 5 years.

Is 5 year survival really what we should be looking at when a child's peers have a live expectancy of well over 70 years?​

Sadly, no. But this is how it is measured at present.

In reality, the majority of the improvement has been within within a few of the most common cancer types, in particular the leukaemias. These advances are wonderful and are very much needed. They have happened due to the work of hard working charities that have fundraised and supported these children. The treatments for these children however remain very long (up to 3 years), intense and very traumatic.

Improvements in these areas however have pushed up average survival rates for all children. But when you look at the break down, there are a number of tumour types with still very poor or abysmal survival rates that have made little or no progress in the last 30 years.

The graph above shows what has happened to the mortality rates (death rate) of children with leukaemia and lymphoma compared to all the other cancer types in children.

In 1975, there was little difference in outcome whether you received a diagnosis of leukaemia or a diagnosis of a solid tissue tumour.

However, today, there is a big difference. The death rate of children with solid tumours is far higher. We need overall improvements to continue in all areas, but for solid tissue tumours to catch up the leukaemias too.

Funding Disparities

The reality is that the small amount of funding that children receive is concentrated on the most common forms of childhood cancer. This in some ways is completely understandable as it will help the greatest number of children, but what about the rest of these children, the other the other 32%?

A third of children with cancer have one of the rarer childhood cancers. By definition, almost all have a much lower chance of survival.

Lets have a look at some survival rates

The average five year survival rate, across all childhood cancer types, is 82.9%.(Office of National Statistics).

Some cancers have good survival rates, but even retinoblastoma (eye cancer) with an excellent survival rate often is at the expense of the child losing an eye.

Certain rare tumours, such as DIPG (brain) and rhabdoid tumours (like Grace had) have particularly poor survival rates, and these have remained pretty unchanged.

Other conditions of note particularly are soft tissue tumours (rhabdomyosarcoma) and neuroblastoma with rates lagging behind other areas.

This graph speaks volumes - although average 5 year survival in children is almost 83% the true survival of a child generally depends on the cancer type they are diagnosed with.

It is these conditions with poor survival rates that the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust is funding research for to help improve treatments.

Another area that hugely impacts survival is delays in diagnosis. If a child is diagnosed later, they have much lower chances of cure. This is why we are working to spread awareness of the signs and symptoms as well.

Join our fight today at the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust, fight for our children.