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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 August 2007, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
UK 'fails child cancer patients'
More children are successfully treated for cancer
Survival rates for child cancer are worse in the UK than on mainland Europe, say experts.

A study in Lancet Oncology highlighted the fact that diagnosis for some types of cancer is three times more likely in Germany than the UK.

Professor Alan Craft, of the University of Newcastle, said child cancer was a low priority for the NHS, and called for urgent reforms.

The Department of Health said measures had been taken to improve services.

I would like to reassure all of the families that might be confronting a diagnosis of cancer right now that they won't be getting treated better anywhere in Europe than they are now in the UK
Professor Alex Markham
Cancer Research UK

And cancer experts said standards had improved significantly in recent years.

The paper highlighted trials carried out on Wilm's tumour - a common childhood tumour - in Germany.

It showed that, between 1994 and 2001, 27.4% of patients had a cancer that was first identified during a visit to a health professional for an unrelated problem, or by routine surveillance.

By comparison, in the UK, just 11% of patients presenting to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and 4% of patients referred to the Newcastle Hospital or the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle were identified.

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Professor Craft, and co-author Dr Kathy Pritchard-Jones, of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey, called for routine surveillance of children as standard across the UK.

They said health visitors needed to be more aware of the symptoms of cancer.

They also believe children in the UK have been receiving a different treatment protocol from their European neighbours, possibly involving first-line treatment or less-intensive treatment during relapse.

Professor Craft said: "Waiting lists and hospital beds keep chief executives awake at night, but I don't think the health of children does."

Professor Alex Markham, senior medical advisor to the charity Cancer Research UK, said the paper gave a snapshot of cancer care from a decade ago.

"The landscape for the treatment of children with cancer in Britain has changed beyond recognition in the period since. "I would like to reassure all of the families that might be confronting a diagnosis of cancer right now that they won't be getting treated better anywhere in Europe than they are now in the UK."

Measures in place

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of childhood cancer charity CLIC Sargent, said UK survival rates for childhood cancer have increased over the past 30 years, with seven out of 10 now surviving their illness.

She also warned that differences in data collection made comparisons with European counterparts difficult.

The Department of Health said the number of children successfully treated for cancer had risen from 25% in the 1960s to around 75%.

A spokeswoman said the fact that child cancer was a high priority was underlined by the publication of the National Service Framework for Children in 2004.

This was followed by specific guidance on child cancer care from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in 2005.

However, she said: "We recognise there is more to do so that our services match the best in Europe."

A Cancer Reform Strategy is currently under development.

The heartbreak of child cancer
16 May 07 |  Health
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24 Aug 05 |  Health

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