Only 2% of cancer research funding is for children's cancer

31 Aug 2023, 12:01 p.m.

Phot of Arianna at GOSH, smiling and looking to the side.

Cancer is the biggest killer in children aged one to 14 in the UK.

Yet despite this, on average, only 2 pence out of every £1 spent each year on cancer research goes towards dedicated research projects to find new ways of diagnosing and treating children’s cancers, according to the latest available data.

This Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we're calling for more investment in childhood cancer to help save more lives.

Childhoods are being lost to cancer

Analysis by GOSH Charity of the latest figures from the National Cancer Research Institute found that £702,616,885 was spent in the UK on all cancers. Of this, only £15,158,410 was spent on research projects wholly focused on children – equating to just over 2%.

Five children lose their lives to cancer every week. As well as the lives tragically lost, a cancer diagnosis can also mean that a childhood is lost, with many children facing life-long physical, mental and emotional challenges as a result of their intensive treatment.

Although childhood cancer survival is over 80%, there are still some cancers with less than a 2% survival rate. Survival rates also do not reflect the reality of what it is like to live with long-term side effects.

Clinicians at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) warn that children may have problems with their fertility and can experience physical disabilities for the rest of their lives, in addition to the potential damage to their mental wellbeing that months, and sometimes years, of cancer treatment can cause.

Research into kinder and more gentle treatments is desperately needed, so children and their families don’t have to live with the devastating impact of long-term side effects. Although survival rates have increased, more work still needs to be done to develop treatments for children where there is little or no hope of a cure.

Arianna's story

Six-year-old Arianna (pictured at the top of this page) was diagnosed with high-risk stage four neuroblastoma in November 2021 after complaining of back pain.

Soon after being transferred to GOSH, she started on eight rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, before being moved onto BIT, a form of treatment that combines chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Arianna’s tumour, which was located just above her kidneys, shrank after she started on a clinical trial that combined radiotherapy with immunotherapy. She had the tumour removed via surgery in January 2023 and is still receiving treatment.

“I’ve never been able to put into words how it feels to hear that your child has cancer – you can’t ever prepare yourself to mentally accept that,” Arianna’s mum, Abi, tells us.

“The cruellest thing about cancer for children is that it totally takes away their childhood; it takes away everything.

“Arianna hasn’t been able to go to school or play with her friends, we’ve had to self-isolate a lot to reduce the chances of her picking anything up.

“But it’s also the long-term impacts. We know that Arianna will be infertile. We had ovary preservation to try and preserve one of her ovaries, in the hope that science will develop enough so the ovary will actually be able to be used for something. We know that Arianna will be affected when she’s older, but we still hope that can just grow up to live her life.

“From my own family’s experience, the lack of investment in children’s cancer is shocking to me. Every child deserves a future and research into better treatments is crucial.”

The Children’s Cancer Centre: Building a breakthrough

Here at GOSH Charity, we’re the UK’s largest dedicated charitable funder of child health.

We invested £9.3 million in children’s cancer between 2016 and 2021. In our new five-year research strategy, we have pledged a further £15 million in this area, including childhood cancer-related research projects, new infrastructure and medical equipment.

But it’s not just about providing funding for more children’s cancer research. It’s also vital that there are innovative facilities and cutting-edge medical equipment to put this pioneering research into practice.

As part of our biggest ever fundraising appeal, we’re aiming to raise £300 million to help build a state-of-the-art new Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH and drive transformation in children’s cancer care.

Computer generated image showing the roof garden at the Children's Cancer Centre

An artist's impression of the the rooftop garden at the Children's Cancer Centre.

The Children’s Cancer Centre will help to increase the research capabilities at GOSH, enabling more research activity and access to clinical trials for families.

Research can directly improve the diagnosis, treatment and care pathways for cancer, leading to improved long-term outcomes and survival rates.

“The Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH will help to increase research capacity and will provide us with the facilities we need to pioneer new breakthrough therapies; it will help save more children’s lives,” Dr Sara Ghorashian, a consultant in paediatric haematology at GOSH, says.

Designed with the needs of children and families at its heart, the new state-of-the-art centre will support every aspect of care for children and their families, from diagnosis to remission. It will help to make sure that every child has an opportunity to participate in research.

“The Children’s Cancer Centre has the potential to be game-changing, but we need the nation’s support for our Build it. Beat it. fundraising appeal to make it a reality,” adds Kiki Syrad, Director of Impact and Charitable Programmes at GOSH Charity.

Together, we can Build it. Beat it.

GOSH Charity’s Build it. Beat it fundraising appeal is already being supported by the Grayken family, the Michael Uren Foundation, Premier Inn & Restaurants, Omaze and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), along with a number of other Founder Partners and Patrons.

Related content