Tailored therapy is helping children to beat cancer
Large numbers of children suffering cancer are now cured using less intensive therapy, sparing them the side-effects of treatment later on, according to a Dublin specialist.
Professor Owen Smyth, a paediatric haematologist in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, said recent clinical trials show the same results can be achieved as with intensive treatment, "thus avoiding important late effects in long-term survivors".
Speaking in advance of a conference to mark Ireland's first Cancer Week - which is organised by both the Irish Cancer Society and Trinity College - to be held next month, he said: "The treatment of children and young people with cancer is an area that has shown enormous progress over the past 50 years.
"In developed countries, the overall survival rates now approach 80pc at five years from diagnosis and most of these young people will become long-term survivors."
He said the advances are seen in leukaemia, the most common form of cancer in children. They are given standard treatment for the first five weeks but doctors can now measure their response to chemotherapy during that time.
"We can then tailor the therapy to the individual. It is personalised medicine. If favourable we can reduce the amount of chemotherapy.
"Some children may need more rather than less. But it means we are curing more patients," he said.
A report from the National Cancer Registry recently showed that death rates for Irish children who develop cancer are now among the lowest in Europe, outranked only by Switzerland and Austria.
Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than girls. Around 196 young people under the age of 20 are diagnosed with the disease annually.
Cancer Week organisers said the aim of the week is to highlight the increasing rates of cancer survivorship in all age groups and how more people are living well with, and beyond, cancer.
"Clinicians, scientists and cancer survivorship experts will explain how, despite rising cancer cases, advances in the early detection and treatment of cancer are changing the landscape for those with a cancer diagnosis. More than 60pc of people in Ireland survive for five years or longer after a cancer diagnosis and go on to live a normal and healthy life," said a spokeswoman.
Cancer prevention, with a particular focus on lifestyle, will be a major theme during the week.
Currently, there are around 134,000 people in Ireland living with cancer.