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Cancer Is More Lethal For Black and Hispanic Children: Report

THURSDAY, Nov. 16, 2023 (Healthday News) -- While childhood cancer is no longer terminal for many, death rates remain higher in Black and Hispanic children, a new government report reveals.

Treatments for these rare cancers have improved drastically in recent decades, and death rates dropped for all children in 2001 -- and kept dropping for another decade.

But over the past 10 years, only the death rate for white children continued to dip lower, the report from the National Center for Health Statistics found.

“You can have the most sophisticated scientific advances, but if we can’t deliver them into every community in the same way, then we have not met our goal as a nation,” Dr. Sharon Castellino, a pediatric cancer specialist at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, told the Associated Press.

Sometimes, the treatments themselves can be too big a burden: Castellino said the complexity of new cancer treatments such as gene therapy, which can cure some children with leukemia, can actually be an obstacle to getting care.

“You need at least one parent to quit their job and be there 24/7, and then figure out the situation for the rest of their children,” Castellino said. “It’s not that families don’t want to do that. It’s difficult.”

More social workers are needed to help families file paperwork to get job-protected leave and make sure the child’s health insurance is current and doesn’t lapse, the AP reported.

The overall cancer death rate for children and teenagers in the U.S. declined 24% over the two decades studied, from 2.75 to 2.10 per 100,000, according to the report.

But in that second decade, gaps emerged: The 2021 rate per 100,000 was 2.38 for Black youth, 2.36 for Hispanics and 1.99 for whites.

Nearly incurable 50 years ago, childhood cancer now is survivable for most patients, especially those with leukemia. The leading cause of cancer deaths in kids is now brain cancer, the AP reported.

Every year, about 15,000 American children and teens are diagnosed with cancer. More than 85% live for at least five years.

The National Cancer Institute is now gathering data from every childhood cancer patient in hopes of connecting each child to state-of-the-art care. The effort could improve equity, said Dr. Emily Tonorezos, who leads the institute’s work on cancer survivorship.

The latest report is “upsetting and discouraging,” she told the AP. “It gives us a roadmap for where we need to go next.”

More information

Visit the American Childhood Cancer Organization for more on childhood cancer.

SOURCE: NCHS data brief, Declines in Cancer Death Rates Among Youth: United States, 2001–2021, Nov. 16, 2023; Associated Press

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