Fighting paediatric cancer

We must ensure all paediatric cancer patients have access to the best medical care possible, and give them all the tools possible to win over the illness | Cyrus Engerer

Paediatric Cancer Awareness Month presents us with an opportunity to reflect on where we are at in our fight against cancer, noting the stellar work done to overcome challenges, while looking ahead at the technological advances which are expected to materialise in this medical field.

The facts and numbers speak for themselves: cancer affects around one in every 320 children under the age of 19, globally. Every three minutes, somewhere in the world, a child succumbs to this terrible illness. In fact, on a European level, cancer is the most prevalent cause of death in children over one year of age.

In order to progress in this sector and save as much young lives as possible around the world, more awareness on this subject is certainly needed, especially regarding the various cancer variants which affect both children and adults, the type of cancer diagnosed, the rate of spread within the patient’s body, and the most appropriate treatment method.

Unfortunately, around 80% of paediatric cancer cases would have already spread throughout the body, by the time they are diagnosed. On the other hand, when it comes to cancer in adult patients, this rate tumbles down to 20%. This must lead us to take more concrete and effective action to protect our children from this deadly illness.

One of the largest challenges relates to securing the necessary funding for more research and innovation conducted by medical experts, in search of new cures, therapies, treatments and medicines to fight the various forms of cancer affecting children. At the European level, we have the reality of having only between 30% and 50% of medicines made available to children. This is a direct consequence of the lack of adequate investment in research and innovation as well as a weak infrastructural setup

For a long time, insufficient scientific knowledge and a shortage of commercial interest from pharmaceutical companies did not aid the situation, leading to relatively slow-moving progress in this area. In light of this, as part of my work in the Beating Cancer Committee of the European Parliament, I’ve been focusing and advocating on incentivising investment in this field, in order to stimulate research and innovation for the wellbeing of our children.

Despite the many difficulties faced, we are slowly but surely applying more pressure for a pan-European approach to combat cancer. COVID-19 presented a silver lining, with the greater realisation that we can achieve much more in the health sector by working together as a European Union. This is what led the European Commission to announce a holistic plan to battle and overcome cancer in Europe.

One of the many measures announced, is an initiative whereby young cancer patients are given more psychological support, thanks to funding derived from the ‘Horizon Europe Cancer Mission’ – which will also help towards raising awareness on cancer progression in paediatric patients, whilst also aiding to transform the treatment methods offered, for a better prognosis, as well as psychological support to survivors.

Our children are extremely dear to us, and all of us would do whatever it takes to ensure they get to live their best life possible and achieve whatever they aspire for; which is why I will never stop calling for paediatric cancer to receive the recognition and awareness it deserves at a European level.

This month, let’s work together to raise awareness on this critical topic. We must ensure all paediatric cancer patients have access to the best medical care possible, and give them all the tools possible to win over the illness.