The cancer death rate for children in the United States has declined sharply — down 20 percent from 1990 to 2004 — thanks to better treatment of leukemia and other cancers, health officials said on Thursday.
Cancer stands as the leading disease-related cause of death for U.S. children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report. Better treatments are improving survival rates, the CDC said.
The cancer death rate for U.S. children was 34.2 per million for children up to age 19 in 1990, but fell to 27.3 per million in 2004, the CDC said. This death rate has declined 1.7 percent per year during this period, according to the CDC.
"It's not that we're having less cancer diagnosed. The incidence rates, the new-case rates are the same. It's just that we're getting better survival," the CDC's Dr. Lori Pollack said in a telephone interview.
There were 2,223 childhood cancer deaths in 2004, compared to 2,457 in 1990, the CDC said. The only greater causes of death for U.S. children were accidents, homicide and suicide.
The blood and bone marrow cancers known as leukemia caused about 26 percent of the 2004 cancer deaths, with brain and other nervous system tumors causing another 25 percent. Death rates from leukemia dropped more sharply than other cancers, by 3 percent per year from 1990 to 2004, the CDC said.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said better drugs and improvements in how drugs are used are helping improve leukemia survival, along with effective use of bone marrow transplants.
"We've made tremendous advances against pediatric cancer. We'd like to see greater advances. Kids are still dying from it," Brawley said in a telephone interview.
U.S. Hispanics have not experienced as large a decline in childhood cancer death rates as other groups, according to the CDC report. Their cancer death rates have declined by only 1 percent per year during the 15 years studied.
"Studies have documented that Hispanics lack sufficient access to health-care services because of inadequate health insurance coverage, lack of health insurance, poor geographic access to health-care providers, lack of transportation to and from providers, and cultural and linguistic barriers, which might contribute to this disparity," according to the report.
There were also regional differences, with cancer death rates falling the least in the West and the most in the Midwest, the CDC said. In addition, boys had significantly higher death rates than girls, the CDC said.