Facts & figures draw a picture of childhood cancer

22 Mar 2017

Health data draws a picture of this disease that kills more Australian children than any other. What does it show?

We’ve just recently revisited the stats on our webpage ‘Childhood Cancer: The facts’ to make sure they’re current. Here are a few things to know about kinds of data, where it comes from, and what it does and doesn’t say.

Childhood cancer data, like other public health data in Australia, is collected by governments and health organisations at state and federal level. It takes considerable time and resources to collect and organise so is never completely up-to-date. Major repositories of data are archived and analysed to provide information to public health decision-makers. It’s communicated to the public online, bound in reports and even shared on social media.

On our website, we give a brief snapshot of childhood cancer incidence, survival and mortality with data sourced from these databases as well as providing some top line facts about cancer in children and long term effects. Did you know?

  • Every week, nearly 3 children and adolescents in Australia – and 1,500 children worldwide – die from cancer.
  • 40% of childhood cancer deaths result from tumours of the central nervous system (including brain tumours), 23% from leukaemia and 11% from neuroblastoma.
  • Sixty years ago, cancer was nearly always a death sentence for a child. Today, 8 out of 10 children survive. However, these improvements are not even across cancer types. Survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia are now 90%, but brain cancer survival rates have barely changed from around 50%  in decades.

Data like this reveals the need for medical research to find new treatments with fewer side effects.

Childhood cancer data

In updating our childhood cancer facts recently, we searched through fact sheets, reports or spreadsheets with data organised by cancer type, age, gender. We looked at data about children (0-14 year olds) and adolescents (15-19 year olds) for different childhood cancers as well as child cancer overall.

Data is sometimes visualised in graphs, giving an at-a-glance picture of some aspect of childhood cancer. This bar chart, showing most common child cancer subtypes, is from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2012 report ‘A picture of Australia’s children’ (pdf, 5.7MB).

Bar graph from report 'A picture of Australia's children'

Increasingly, websites have sophisticated interactive graphics that allow users to explore the data for themselves. A great example is Cancer Council Queensland’s Queensland Cancer Statistics Online (QCSOL). This site allows you to play with the graphs, changing the display to delve into the data.

It’s worth remembering though, no matter how cool the graphs or how intriguing the statistics, these data represent people – real children with cancer and real families and communities living the cancer journey alongside them every day. Each child has their own personal story that mere numbers can never fully communicate.

Zero is the best number of all

There is one number we’re eager to see more of though – zero. Through medical research, we’re working toward reducing the nearly 3 Australian children a week dying of cancer to 2 to 1 to zero.

Get a clearer picture by checking out the facts and figures about childhood cancer in Australia on our website.