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Putting the spotlight on children with cancer

Putting the spotlight on children with cancer

Senior Research Nurse, Jan Chu, delivering T-cell therapy to 13-year-old leukemia patient Alyssa. May 2022 © Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children

Dr Emma Stockton, Chair of the Children’s Cancer Centre Clinical working group | Great Ormond Street Hospital

4 min read Partner content

The word ‘cancer’ is one that nobody wants to hear, particularly in relation to a child. But for thousands of families across the UK, it is now their reality.

Just last year, over 1,200 children visited us at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in order to undergo specialist cancer treatment. Beyond our doors, the number of children being diagnosed across the country is also rising.  Though cancer survival is improving, instances of childhood cancer have increased by 12% in just the past 30 years. 

Developing the specialist medicines and treatments to increase cancer survival is a truly global effort. Next month, on the 15th February, we will be marking International Childhood Cancer Day. This is a worldwide effort to raise awareness of increasing rates of childhood cancer and the ongoing need to bring forward innovative treatments, and ultimately to work towards finding a cure. 

Back in the UK, we have an increasing need for specialised services to help meet the demand we are seeing. At GOSH, for example, we aim to expand our services by building a new, cutting-edge Children’s Cancer Centre – a unique resource that will bring together the experts, equipment and facilities to treat the most complex cancers that children face.

This will build on decades of work at GOSH, during which time we have developed specialisms to treat some of the most difficult paediatric cancers. From the first bone marrow transplant for children in 1979, to developing base-editing technology to treat previously incurable T-cell leukaemia in 2022, we have been at the forefront of cancer services for children across the UK and the world.

Despite these advances, more needs to be done. The rapidly changing pace of cancer treatments has outstripped our ability to offer them optimally within our existing facilities. Some of our outpatient cancer clinics are in buildings from the 1930s and services are scattered across our hospital campus, which can mean multiple moves and upheaval for children and families at an already distressing time. 

This is why we are looking to build a new centre that will enhance our capacity, within the NHS, to enable more children from across the UK to benefit from innovative therapies and to improve their quality of life. To do this, the Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH will not only provide clinical spaces, including specialist wards and critical care facilities, it will also enable us to build a new hospital school to allow our patients to continue their education and maintain their academic progress despite being in hospital.

The rapidly changing pace of cancer treatments has outstripped our ability to offer them optimally within our existing facilities.

We will be delivering more specialist, complex services which require close collaboration with clinicians from other nearby institutions. For example, our childhood cancer service sees children up to approximately age 13 before they are transferred to the Teenage & Young Adult cancer service at University College London Hospital. The new Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH will work closely with our partners to advance cancer care treatment, benefiting the children and young people that we care for.

The new breakthrough treatments that our researchers develop offer extraordinary opportunities to improve survival rates for children with cancer, but without next-generation specialist facilities to develop and deliver these complex treatments, they can’t become a reality.

GOSH is also a research hospital, so expanding our capabilities means helping us do more work at the forefront of new discoveries and treatments that improve outcomes for children all over the world. Together with our research partner, Institute of Child Health (ICH), we are the largest paediatric centre in Europe, with seamless pathways from the lab to patient.

This is why we will be asking MPs to help us and others in the NHS to do all they can to help promote awareness of International Childhood Cancer Day - and the need for continuing focus within our NHS on childhood cancers. 

No child should have to face cancer. But, if they do, we want to be able to offer them the hope of survival and the best chance of a healthy future in a facility that looks after their every need as a child, from play and education to the very latest breakthrough treatments. That is exactly what we want the new Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH to provide.

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