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Preventing childhood cancer

The International Childhood Cancer Cohort Consortium is a long-term study that aims to obtain the first prospective evidence on preventable causes of childhood cancer. 

Every year, more than 200,000 children around the world develop cancer and almost half this number die. It is one of the major causes of death and serious illness in children in the developed world, and an emerging problem of significant magnitude in low and middle income countries. It is a disease that touches all regions of the globe and has an impact on countless families and communities. 

Unlocking the causes 

Childhood cancer has attracted a great deal of attention from medical researchers around the world, resulting in some very important successes – most notably in relation to how to treat children who develop cancer. However, much less attention has been paid to how the disease might be prevented, partly because childhood cancer is very complex. 

For example, there are many different types of cancer that affect children and they are usually different from cancers in adults. A child’s risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including age and genetics. Environmental exposures experienced by both the mother and baby may also influence risk. 

The scarcity of evidence relating to the importance of early-life exposures has hindered efforts to advance our knowledge about how interventions in early life might reduce the risk of childhood cancer. For these reasons, The George Institute, UK at the University of Oxford is focusing its research on the causes of childhood cancers in order to tackle the puzzle of prevention. 

A global research study 

Led by The George Institute, UK, the International Childhood Cancer Cohort Consortium is gathering evidence in the form of data collected in pregnancy and from the baby well before any cancer occurs, which is the key to understanding whether factors such as infections or environmental chemicals contribute importantly to the risk of cancer in children. 

Due to the rarity of many forms of childhood cancer, obtaining prospective evidence requires data from a very large number of mothers and children. Our aim is that the study will eventually involve up to one million mothers and babies, in cohorts from 10 different countries, with the children being followed from conception until the age of 15, making the study unique in scope and scale. 

We have already found that the incidence of childhood cancer rises with increasing birthweight; along a continuum, a one-kilogram birthweight increase correlates to a 26% increase in the risk of all childhood cancers. This finding gives us important clues about where to look next. 

If we were to obtain reliable data on whether or not infections or environmental chemicals might contribute to the risk of childhood cancer, it would be a ground-breaking step. Some of the risk factors we discover might be preventable, and the insights generated could support major public health efforts to reduce childhood cancer in future.

How you can help

The George Institute’s innovative, large-scale study with its big data approach provides the single greatest opportunity for finding a preventable cause of childhood cancer. We are seeking philanthropic support to end the suffering experienced by children who are diagnosed with cancer and their extended families. Avoidance of this suffering, through prevention, would be one of the greatest achievements possible.