By David A. Williams
The fact that childhood cancer is, thankfully, a rare disease belies the fact that it is the leading cause of disease-related death in U.S. children, age 1-19. The fact that it is a rare disease also belies the fact the number of people with a direct stake in expanding research into pediatric cancer is quite large and extends well beyond the small number of children with cancer and their families. Not only are the combined life-long contributions of children cured of cancer enormous, but understanding cancers of young children could also hold the key to understanding a broad range of adult cancers. The time is ripe to allocate more resources, public and private, to research on pediatric cancer.
In an age of increased understanding of the genetic basis of diseases, one thing is striking about many childhood cancers. They are relatively “quiet” cancers, with very few mutations of the DNA. The young patients haven’t lived long enough to acquire the large number of mutations that create the background “noise” associated with years of living. This makes it much easier to pinpoint the relevant genetic abnormalities in a young child’s cancer.