Photo by Logan Tuttle
VIENNA—Despite progress made in recent years, there are “major problems” in pediatric oncology care in Europe, according to a report from the European Society for Paediatric Oncology (SIOPE).
Cancer is still the first cause of death by disease in children age 1 and older in Europe, and more than 300,000 European citizens are pediatric cancer survivors.
These individuals have a higher risk of death at 5 years after diagnosis than that of the general population.
“This is a serious problem for patients, their families, and for health services, with major inequalities existing across Europe,” said SIOPE President Gilles Vassal, MD, PhD, of the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France.
“Add to this the fact that 35% of such cancers normally occur before the child is 5 years old and that many pediatric cancers are difficult to treat, and you will understand why we thought it essential to try to tackle this problem in a practical way.”
The resulting report, “The SIOPE Strategic Plan: A European Cancer Plan for Children and Adolescents,” was recently presented at the 2015 European Cancer Congress.
The report was drawn up after widespread consultation, including discussions with parents, patients, and survivors. It sets out existing problems and proposes solutions to tackle them.
Among these problems are poor access to new drugs for pediatric patients; lack of funding; disparities across Europe in access to treatment and, hence, survival; and the fact that pediatric oncology has been relatively isolated from the adult oncology community.
With the goal of fixing these problems, the report sets out a number of goals and lists the key factors that will be necessary in order to achieve them.
These include a commitment of all funding bodies to finance projects and structures of relevance to pediatric oncology; a strong partnership with patients, parents, and survivors, including better communication and dissemination of information; better collaboration with adult oncology; and transparent partnerships with industry.
“One of the most important objectives focuses on increasing our knowledge of the biology of pediatric tumors,” said SIOPE President-Elect Martin Schrappe, MD, of the University of Kiel, Germany.
“Cancers in adults result from a multistep process, usually after exposure to external carcinogens such as tobacco, alcohol, and diet, and often progress over many years. Pediatric malignancies develop early in life and over a much shorter time period. This suggests that fewer and stronger events are required for them to progress. Compared with adult cancers, most of them show fewer genetic defects and have a lower genetic complexity.”
“Major progress has been made in understanding pediatric tumor biology, and this has led to the discovery of some unique cancer hallmarks. Now, we need to use modern, innovative technologies to further decipher the mechanisms of pediatric tumor development, progression, and relapse, and speed up its translation to the clinic.”
To do this effectively and fairly, according to the report, interactions need to be strengthened at several levels—between networks of basic research teams, between basic scientists and clinical researchers, and by increasing the involvement of patients and parents in the search for personalized treatments. SIOPE plans to monitor progress through research into outcomes.
Improving quality of life
Another important issue for SIOPE is improving the quality of life for survivors.
“We believe that, in 2020, there will be nearly half a million European pediatric cancer survivors, and many of them will have side effects that are severe enough to affect their daily lives,” Dr Schrappe said. “While the fact that so many survive is a cause for rejoicing, we have a duty to provide them with optimal long-term care so that the rest of their lives may be as normal as possible.”
“One way of doing this would be the creation of a ‘survivorship passport’ for each child and adolescent cured of a cancer. This would contain a history of their disease and treatment, together with relevant follow-up measures aimed at improving their quality of life and a database for storing the clinical data [that would] facilitate monitoring and research.”