A staggering one in every 450 children in the UK will get cancer (that's over 1,500 new cases diagnosed each year) and around 250 children die from the disease every year. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death from disease in children under 15 in the UK.
Happily, though, thanks to advances in diagnostics and treatment, around 70 per cent of children survive cancer.
At the forefront of the treatment of and research into childhood cancers is London's Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
GOSH's oncology & haematology department treats around 450 patients each year, accounting for about 28 per cent of national childhood cancer cases. And over the past 10 years, they have achieved amazing successes in their research and treatment techniques, including using biomarkers to target tumours more effectively and increasing recruitment on to clinical trials, vital in the development of new cancer treatments.
Their research into the most effective treatments for patients with high-risk neuroblastoma found the treatment BuMel not only improved survival, but also had fewer serious side-effects and the drug is now routinely used to treat children with the disease.
At the moment, the hospital is running new clinical trials for some of the rarest and hardest to treat childhood cancers. These include new immunotherapies, where children receive antibodies to help 'mop up' any remaining cancer cells after the bulk of the cancer has been removed by surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. They are also running trials on a form of gene therapy for neuroblastoma, genetically modifying a patient's own killer cells (T cells) to recognise and 'kill off' the cancer.
But there is lots more to do and over the next 10 years, the hospital hopes not only to improve survival rates, especially for the harder to treat childhood cancers, but also to reduce the severe side effects of cancer treatments in children by adopting more gentle treatments, reducing doses and exposure to intensive therapies and personalising treatments to the needs of every individual by using the latest DNA and imaging technologies. This is because no two cancers are the same, and patients with the same type of cancer will respond differently to treatment.
Of course all this costs money. In fact, the hospital needs to raise at least £50 million every year to help fund this type of research, pioneer new treatments and cures as well as rebuild, refurbish and buy vital equipment.
Helping out couldn't be easier. During February, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity is partnering with Clinique for the Kiss it Better appeal to raise funds for research into the causes and treatment of childhood cancer. A new limited edition A Different Nail Enamel for Sensitive Skins in the shade 'Kiss it Better' is available exclusively from House of Fraser and Clinique - RRP £12 with £6 going to the appeal.
To find out more and donate to the appeal click here or text KISS14 followed by your donation (eg KISS14 £3) to 70070
Parentdish talked to a supporter of the campaign - mum Deborah Cass, 42 - whose daughter Astrid was treated at GOSH after being diagnosed with cancer.
Deborah lives in north London with husband Ashleigh, 48, and their two daughters Lola, 11, and Astrid, seven. She says:
"Astrid was a happy, healthy four-year-old. So, when a small lump – much like a gnat bite - appeared on her left cheek in January 2011, I wasn't unduly concerned. I took her to the GP just to be safe, but two courses of antibiotics later and the lump was still growing.We were referred to our local hospital, The Royal London, and tests continued, culminating in a biopsy of the lump – by then the size of an egg. We were then transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) where we were told Astrid had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
The diagnosis cut me in half. I simply hadn't expected such terrible news.
Astrid started a course of chemotherapy and within just a few days, the lump began to shrink.
The nurses helped make administering the drugs as painless as possible for her – she had grown afraid of needles thanks to all the blood tests she'd endured when doctors were searching for a diagnosis, so it took a lot of patience and kindness.
Play therapists helped her to understand some of the treatment she would have to endure by role-playing with a doll who had a Hickman Line (a tube inserted into chest in order to deliver intravenous drugs) just like she did.Over the following months, Astrid endured harrowing treatment– at times she stopped talking, walking and showing any interest in what was going on around her because of the drugs coursing through her body which made her feel so very ill. She even developed pancreatitis as a side effect of her treatment and spent time in intensive care on a ventilator.
But through it all we felt we were in safe and caring hands.
Of course it was almost unbearable for us at times, not least for Lola, Astrid's big sister. We borrowed books from the hospital that helped explain cancer and what might happen to her sister. She really worried how Astrid would feel if she lost her hair because she knew how she loved her 'blond bunches' (Astrid would insist on wearing her hair in bunches to bed, she loved them so much).
Remarkably, Astrid took that all in her stride. I decided to get her hair cut into a short bob at the beginning of her treatment to make the 'fallout' less traumatic, and she asked me: "This is because I will go bald like all the other children on the ward isn't it?" And when her hair did fall out, she accepted it calmly and without question.
Astrid's treatment continued for over two years, finishing in June 2013. Luckily, the only outward sign that anything has been amiss is a tiny scar on her cheek. She is full of energy and enjoys good health now.
In fact she has a joie de vivre about her which is wonderful to see. She takes nothing for granted – even a bath is something to relish for her because she had to go so long without being allowed in water (because her Hickman Line had to be kept dry) and being allowed for a sleepover with friends now she's well is a huge treat.
She occasionally has nightmares about being in Intensive Care, so every night, she prays that she won't get bad dreams. She also prays for the children on her ward who died. She is sensitive to the fact that she made it, when others didn't, and that we did it together as a family.
Of course, I'm forever grateful to the hospital. Our world was blown apart but they helped us build it back together again.