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Page last update: 25/12/2008

Research, Cancer: Childhood cancer rising in Europe, study finds

An EU-funded project has revealed that the incidence of cancer among children and adolescents in Europe - although still rare - has been rising steadily over the past three decades.

Researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), based in France, found that cancer in European children had risen by an average of 1% per year and in adolescents by 1.5% during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
“Our results provide clear evidence of an increase… and of an acceleration of this trend,” Dr Eva Steliarova-Foucher, the project coordinator, explains. “However, cancer at these ages remains a rare disease.”
Analysing the detailed historical data of more than 100 000 children with cancer from 19 European countries, Steliarova-Foucher’s team also identified that survival rates had improved significantly over the years, although more so in western than in eastern Europe.
The study, which was published in The Lancet, revealed that leukaemia was the most common form of cancer in children aged 14 or under, while lymphomas were most prominent in the 15-19 age group. The incidence of cancer among boys was ‘significantly higher’ than among girls.

Common cause against childhood cancer
The reasons behind this increased rate of cancer are unclear. Speculation, in the past, has centred around several possible explanations, including better diagnosis, environmental factors, higher mobility, or reductions in immunity due to increased health precautions.
“We did not study the causes. We can only speculate but thought exposure to infections could be a factor in leukaemia and lymphoma, and changes in age of child-bearers could be significant,” Dr Steliarova-Foucher was quoted as saying.
This is the first report that draws on the Union-funded Automated Childhood Cancer Information System (ACCIS) which pools information from some 80 population-based cancer registries in 35 countries.
“[This] shows the value of EU level co-operation on important health issues like cancer,” Philip Tod, Commission spokesman for health and consumer protection, told EurActiv. “These findings will now help in the search for possible risk factors and may, in the future, lead to effective prevention.”
Childhood cancer is one of the four priority diseases in the EU’s Environment and Health Strategy and is a focus of Union-funded research under the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006).

Source: EU sources
More Information:
IARC press release
Lancet article (requires free registration)
European Environment and Health Strategy

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top