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Trump Declares No Cure for Childhood Cancer Soon

No, the U.S. will not be curing childhood cancer “very shortly,” as President Trump declared at a campaign rally on Aug. 1.

Today, cure rates for Hodgkin lymphoma and standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia — two common childhood cancers — are more than 90% in the United States and Canada. Overall, 83% of childhood cancer patients become long-term survivors. [1]

However, a 2014 study showed that 80% of those who had survived a childhood cancer had at least one severe, disabling, or life-threatening health condition by age 45.

According to the American Cancer Society, pediatric cancer makes up fewer than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed each year. The NCI says that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children past infancy, and in 2018, it was estimated that 1,780 children would die from various forms of the disease. [2]

Physicians and researchers continue to learn how cancer treatment reshapes the growth and development of small bodies into adulthood and beyond. As knowledge builds and the survivor population expands — it’s now approaching 500,000 in the United States — an effort is underway to blunt the effects of cancer therapy.

In his State of the Union address in February, Trump declared that he would allocate $500 million for pediatric cancer research over 10 years. This was widely welcomed by cancer research organizations such as the American Cancer Society and advocacy groups.

Still, some outlets questioned the impact of the funding, pointing out that the pledge only represents a 10% increase on current National Institutes of Health funding for childhood cancer. Previous administrations have pledged far more, albeit for general cancer research, not specifically childhood cancer. All cancer research is expensive, and a new era of pediatric cancer research likely will require a more significant funding increase than just 10%.

The NIH estimates its 2019 spending in this area to be $462 million, according to research portfolio data. So, $500 million over 10 years, or an average $50 million a year, amounts to a bit more than a 10% increase.

Last year, Trump signed the Childhood Cancer STAR Act, which appropriates $30 million a year for the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend on research for childhood cancer. Under Trump, the NIH’s budget has increased from $36 billion in 2017 to an estimated $39 billion in 2019.

Conversely, Barack Obama announced during his 2016 State of the Union that he wanted to “make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” The jumping-off point became known as the “Cancer Moonshot” initiative. In his initial announcement, Obama proposed $1 billion to be parceled out over fiscal years 2016 and 2017. That’s an average of $500 million over two years. [3]

In December 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which instead allotted $1.8 billion to the Moonshot effort over seven years. That averages to about $257 million for each of those years, though it’s up to Congress each year to decide on the Moonshot’s actual appropriation. [4]

NCI cancer geneticist Stephen Chanock suggests enrolling every single cancer patient into a long-term cohort study “so that we don’t magnify the problems that we’ve seen.” But some participants warned against reinventing the wheel.

Peter Adamson of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, who also is chairman of the NCI Children’s Oncology Group, which treats 90% of U.S. childhood cancer patients, noted that its Project: EveryChild already holds data for 19,000 patients. “Some of the ideas being presented here could leverage some of the existing infrastructure,” he said. [5]

 

Citations

[1] Treatments for childhood cancer can devastate lives years later. Scientists are trying to change that. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/treatments-childhood-cancer-can-devastate-lives-years-later-scientists-are-trying

[2] Key Statistics for Childhood Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-in-children/key-statistics.html

[3] Fact Sheet: Investing in the National Cancer Moonshot. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/01/fact-sheet-investing-national-cancer-moonshot

[4] The 21st Century Cures Act. https://www.nih.gov/research-training/medical-research-initiatives/cures

[5] Researchers weigh in on Trump’s $500 million plan to share childhood cancer data. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/researchers-weigh-trump-s-500-million-plan-share-childhood-cancer-data