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Childhood Cancer Funding

Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children in the United States. Every year, an estimated 15,780 children under 20 years of age in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. Out of these 15,780 children that get cancer, approximately 3,468 will die from the disease. On top of that, 2/3 of the children who survive their cancer will have long lasting chronic conditions from treatment (“Childhood Cancer Facts”). There are dozens of di erent types of childhood cancers, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and neuroblastoma. Despite all of these statistics, childhood cancer is still hugely underfunded. In the United States, the National Institute of Health (NIH) uses less than 4% of its funding for childhood cancer research (“Childhood Cancer Facts and Statistics”). To make matters worse, the White House has proposed a budget cut of a whopping $1.2 billion to the NIH (Scott). Nearly all of this $1.2 billion cut will target research grants, which is a strong force in finding better treatments, and eventually a cure, for childhood cancer (Scott). The NIH should not have this budget cut put in place, but instead put more money towards finding better treatments and a cure for childhood cancer. It doesn’t take long to find out where most of the money used for childhood cancer research comes from. A quick google search will lead you to many non-profit organizations such as St. Baldricks, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and Cure Search. The one thing that all of these nonprofit organizations have in common is that it is actually the families of children with cancer that raise the money. They host lemonade stands, shave their heads, and walk in order to raise money in hopes that they can help find a cure. These non-profit organizations then provide grants to pediatric oncologists and teaching hospitals for research. Unfortunately, this is necessary in order to find a cure to childhood cancer, seeing as the NIH only gives less than 4% of their funding to childhood cancer research (“Childhood Cancer Facts and Statistics”). Furthermore, some of the more high profile non-profit cancer organizations give even less money into funding childhood cancer. For example, the American Cancer Society only gives 1% and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society only gives 2% towards childhood cancer funding (“NCI Funding”).

It also doesn’t take a lot of research to find out why childhood cancer needs more funding. Let’s take, for example, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common type of childhood cancer. The survival rate has dramatically improved over the past few decades for ALL. In the 1960s, the five-year survival rate for ALL was less than 10%, but due to research, treatments started to improve in the 1970s. Because of ongoing research, the five-year survival rate for ALL is now almost 90%. Additionally, even though many more children are surviving ALL, the treatments used to cure their cancer can cause serious long term side effects such as secondary cancers, heart and lung problems, learning problems, and bone problems, just to name a few (“Childhood Cancer Facts and Statistics”). Research should also be put into developing treatments that don’t hold the risk of many of these toxic side effects. Furthermore, there are still some types of childhood cancer that continue to have low survival rates and some that are terminal at diagnosis. Further research is desperately needed to give the children who are diagnosed with cancer a chance to survive.

Why is there so little funding for childhood cancers compared to that for adult cancers? This is, sadly, because there’s more money to be made off adult cancers than childhood cancers. For example, fewer than 10 drugs for use in children with cancer have been developed since 1980. This includes drugs specifically intended for children, as well as ones intended for both children and adults. In comparison, hundreds of new drugs have been developed for cancer in adults (“NCI Funding”). To put the difference in funding into perspective: prostate cancer, which has an average age of diagnosis of 66 years, receives more funding for research from the NIH than all childhood cancers combined (“Childhood Cancer Facts and Statistics”). There are at least 19 types of childhood cancer that all require different treatments, and therefore should not all be lumped up into one category.

Unfortunately, cancer is seen as a money making business for the pharmaceutical industry. Since childhood cancer is considered rare, and more adults get cancer than children, pharmaceutical companies will research and develop new drugs for adult cancers instead of childhood cancers because there is a bigger pro t to be made. However, if you calculate the number of “Person Years Life Lost” (PYLL) in adults vs children who get cancer, children who die from cancer lose an average of 66 years of their lives, compared to the average of 4 years lost from prostate cancer (“NCI Funding”). The pharmaceutical companies, however, only look at number of new cases per year, which at 200,000 for prostate cancer, greatly dwarfs the number of children who get cancer every year in the United States (“NCI Funding”). Because of the huge difference in years of life lost, more priority should be put on funding childhood cancer research. To start, the White House should not go through with the $1.2 billion funding cut to the NIH. This cut would be detrimental to not only pediatric cancer research, but all cancer research in general. Secondly, the NIH should give a higher priority to childhood cancer research, and not lump all childhood cancers into one funding pot. Each type of childhood cancer should get its own funding, just like adult cancers. Also, our government could encourage pharmaceutical companies to research and develop new medicines for childhood cancer, possibly by lowering tax cuts. All of these changes could potentially remove a large burden o of childhood cancer families, who currently feel the pressure to raise this money on their own since what is allocated now is clearly not enough.

Jacob Goeders is a 16 years old video game master, junior philanthropist, and Leukemia Slayer.