As advances in treatment now make it possible to cure many blood-related cancers, leukemia is no longer the top cause of cancer-related deaths among children in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed on Friday, Sept. 16, that brain cancer now surpassed the blood disease as the deadliest form of childhood cancer in the country.
In 1999, almost one in three cancer deaths among patients between the ages 1 and 19 was attributed to leukemia while about one in four was attributed to brain cancer.
By 2014, however, the percentages were reversed based on a report on cancer deaths in young people, which was published by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on Friday.
The report showed that the rate of cancer deaths among children and adolescents dropped 20 percent between the years 1999 and 2014, continuing a trend that began in the mid 1970s.
Although the number of brain cancer deaths initially exceeded those caused by leukemia in 2011, it was not until 2014 that statisticians recognized the gap as significantly big enough to consider it as a true finding.
In 1999, 645 children died from leukemia but this dropped to 445 in 2014. Pediatric brain cancer, on the other hand, was attributed to the death of 516 children in 1999. The number increased to 534 in 2014.
Elizabeth Ward, from the American Cancer Society, said that the reduction in deaths from leukemia is due to the enormous strides that oncologists made in recent decades looking for the best means of using radiation and bone-marrow transplants as well as developing effective chemotherapy regimens.
"Cancer mortality among children and adolescents aged 1-19 years continued to decline during 1999-2014, building upon progress of the previous 3 decades. Major therapeutic advances in treating some forms of cancer, particularly leukemia, may have resulted in increased survivorship," the NCHS report reads.
Brain cancers are very difficult to treat partly because surgeons need to be careful during operations so they do not damage healthy tissues. Blood-brain barrier, which protects the central nervous system from toxins, is also a factor since it makes it difficult to deliver drug into the brain.
Researchers, however, continue to work in a bid to develop better treatments. Earlier this year, a team of doctors developed a promising new brain cancer treatment that can extend survival and longevity of patients for years.
"For pediatric brain tumors in particular, we have not made significant headway at all," said Katherine Warren, from the National Cancer Institute. "With leukemia, you are giving the therapy directly into the blood and hence to the bone marrow which is exactly where the cancer is."