Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

They are words a parent never wants to hear: “Your child has cancer.”

childhood cancer awareness month

In the United States, one in 285 children under age 20 will be diagnosed with cancer each year. While relatively rare, pediatric cancers are often devastating. These cancers are the leading cause of death from disease in children and adolescents.

Thanks to advances propelled by cancer research, pediatric cancer death rates have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past four decades. Despite those advances, approximately 15,590 new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed among children from birth to 19 years, and more than 1,780 died from the disease in 2021, according to data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). 

The most common types of cancers in children are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumors, and neuroblastoma. Taken together, these cancers are accounted for about half of the new cases each year.

“Pediatric cancer research in many ways has played a leading role in the history of cancer research,” explains John M. Maris, MD, the Giulio D’Angio Endowed Professor of pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Many of the early discoveries of how chemotherapy can work to cure cancer were first seen in children with cancer.” 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

What is the AACR Doing in This Area?

The AACR has recently awarded research grants to investigators pursuing promising research related to pediatric cancers.

Jarno Drost, PhD, a principal investigator at Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht, Netherlands, received a 2020 AACR-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Research Grant. Dr. Drost studies the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of childhood kidney and rhabdoid tumors with the aim to identify novel therapies.

“The AACR-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Research Grant offers the support to further develop ongoing, as well as initiate new, research lines. It also provides international exposure for my research, allowing me to initiate new international collaborations in the field of childhood cancer.”

Karisa C. Schreck, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland is the recipient of the 2020 AACR-PLGA Fund at the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Research Grant to Optimize Drug Dosing Strategies for Pediatric LGA/LGG Patients. Dr. Schreck’s grant project seeks to determine RAFi/MEKi penetration and target engagement in non-enhancing and enhancing brain tumor tissue from children and adults with glioma by leveraging biospecimens from ongoing clinical trials.

“This award provides funding to study BRAF inhibitor entry and function in gliomas using clinical trial specimens from patients. This will enable us to design smarter clinical trials and novel drugs against glioma.”

Olena Morozova Vaske, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of California Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California received a 2019 AACR NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research. Dr. Vaske is working on identifying recurrent gene expression outliers in pediatric primary tumors and cancer models and investigating the molecular mechanisms of the aberrant expression.

“This grant enables me to develop a molecular biology program that will evaluate findings from my bioinformatics analysis and contribute to their translation in the pediatric cancer clinic.”

Pediatric Cancer Working Group

The mission of the AACR’s Pediatric Cancer Working Group (PCWG) is to establish childhood cancer research as a global priority supported by improved funding, the very latest technologies, and the best educational strategies. The PCWG provides a forum for communication and collaboration among basic, clinical, and translational researchers in academia, industry, and government on all aspects of pediatric cancer research. The group serves as an interface bridging the AACR with advocacy and legislative groups to promote the prevention and cure of cancers in children. 

In June 2017, the AACR published its first set of consensus screening recommendations for children with common cancer predisposition syndromes in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the AACR. These recommendations emerged from the Childhood Cancer Predisposition Workshop held by the AACR Pediatric Cancer Working Group in October 2016.