For some cancers, survival rates are now 90%, but for harder-to-treat cancers, just five out of 10 children survive. What if our researchers could close the gap?
One day, while comforting their five-month old son, Ollie’s parents felt a hard lump near his nappy line.
Thinking it might be a hernia, Ollie’s mum, Philly, took him to their GP. By 7pm that day, it was clear Ollie had a tumour and he was admitted onto an oncology ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The situation today
Fortunately, cancer in childhood is very rare. However, it’s still the most common cause of death in children under the age of 14 – around 250 children lose their lives to the disease every year.
GOSH has the biggest children’s cancer unit in the UK and our researchers have helped to dramatically improve survival rates for young people, like Ollie, in the past 40 years. But we need to find more answers for children with the most difficult-to-treat cancers.
Ollie received nine months of treatment, including eight rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove part of his liver. Thankfully this treatment rid him of his cancer – 11 years on Ollie is comfortable telling friends at school that he had cancer as a baby, explaining why he has a large and neat scar from his surgery.
“Now we’re dealing with the effects of him having so much chemo, at such a high toxicity, at such a young age,” says his mum.
How we’ll help shape the future
Our researchers are focused on understanding the genetic profile of each child’s cancer, so doctors can match young patients to clinical trials and treatments most likely to work for them. This approach means fewer side effects, so children like Ollie have a better quality of life following cancer treatment.
“Thankfully, Ollie has only lost the top end of his hearing,” says Philly. “He can hear speech fine, but he struggles in big crowds and has to sit at the front of his class.”