When I was in the third grade, my classmate, Jennifer, passed away. It was 1996, and for the past three years, she had fought an uncommon form of leukemia. In the end, she did not live to see her 10th birthday. Each year, over ten thousand children below the age of 19 in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Jennifer was by no means alone in her struggle.
The good news is that more and more of these children are becoming success stories. While in 1960, only five percent of children with cancer survived longer than five years, that number has since skyrocketed to over eighty percent. This is excellent news! But as 1,200 children will suffer the same fate as Jennifer in 2017, we must continue to strive to improve our ability to treat and cure cancer.
As pediatricians, we have a responsibility to encourage Congress to increase federal support for pediatric cancer research. Bill HR 820 was introduced in the House by Representative Michael McCaul on 2/2/17, and seeks to “maximize discovery and accelerate development and availability, of promising childhood cancer treatments.” Known as the Childhood Cancer STAR (Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research) Act of 2017, this bill seeks to help research efforts through a variety of different ways. First, through the continued and expanded establishment of cancer biorepositories, that researchers would be able to access and study in a laboratory setting. This is an obvious first step, and one that we welcome as an extension of the NIH funding already afforded to research in pediatric oncology.
Second, and critically, the bill amends the Public Health Service Act to state that there must be a pediatric oncologist on the National Cancer Advisory Board, to better advocate for our pediatric patients at the national level.
Additionally, the act sets forth several sections focused on the research of late effects of childhood cancer—an important inclusion, as there will be over 500,000 pediatric cancer survivors by the year 2020. We cannot afford to ignore this population, as well as their impact on the health care system in the future. Similarly, the bill seeks to establish cancer survivorship programs, and offer grants to improve follow-up medical and psychiatric care.
These are all worthy goals, and we will be closely monitoring the progress of this bill. Currently it is in the Subcommittee on Health, but we hope that it will move forward, for the good of all pediatric cancer patients in our country. It is encouraging to see legislation that so directly advocates for children in America.
See the bill here: