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Childhood Cancer Research Highlights

Cancer doesn’t fight fair at any age, but perhaps no cancer is more emotionally devastating than those that occur in children. The fear and uncertainty these young patients and their families face can hardly be measured, but the Society is deeply committed to finding new answers that will benefit every child with cancer and their family.

From ACS Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including childhood cancer.

The Society’s Surveillance and Health Services Research program analyzes data on childhood cancers on an annual basis as part of its Cancer Facts & Figures report. Key findings from the 2015 report include:

  • In 2015, an estimated 10,380 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 1,250 deaths will occur among children aged birth to 14 years.
  • Mortality rates for childhood cancer (those aged birth to 14 years) have declined by 67% over the past four decades, from 6.3 (per 100,000) in 1970 to 2.1 in 2011. 

The Society also produced a special report on childhood cancer in 2014, summarizing the progress made and challenges ahead in fighting childhood and adolescent cancers. The report points out that although advances in the treatment of childhood cancer have saved many lives over recent decades, there has been less progress made in understanding the causes and prevention of childhood and adolescent cancers.

And while there have been substantial improvements in survival for many cancers of childhood, others have seen little progress. In addition, the report confirms that while advances in survival for many types of malignancies have resulted from improvements in surgical techniques, delivery of radiation therapy, and use of chemotherapy, children treated for many cancers have a high risk of immediate and long-term health issues that interfere significantly with quality of life for these children and their families.

ACS-Funded Research and Training Grants in Pediatric & Adolescent Cancer*

The Society also supports an Extramural Grants program that funds individual investigators engaged in cancer research or training at medical schools, universities, research institutes and hospitals throughout the U.S. Following rigorous and independent peer review, the most innovative research projects are selected for support.

Total ACS grants currently in effect addressing childhood cancer: 35
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to childhood cancer: $17,968,700

Spotlight on grantees: The following are some of the top scientists funded by the American Cancer Society who are working to find the answers that will save more lives from pediatric cancer.  


David TeacheyDavid Teachey, MD, a physician and researcher at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has a lab set up specifically to look for drugs that will work on 2 recently identified types of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – Ph-like ALL and ETP ALL – that are extremely difficult to treat. Teacher is testing a number of different drugs in mice that have been injected with these types of leukemia cells. Teachey and his team are attempting to target one cellular pathway in particular – the JAK-STAT signaling pathway – as Teachey has found that many of the leukemia samples he has looked at are “addicted to that pathway.” Teachey thinks that if he can turn off that pathway with drugs, the leukemia cells may die.  

Brain cancer

Shahab AsgharzadehShahab Asgharzadeh, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has developed a test to help doctors make better treatment decisions for children with medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in the young. Asgharzadeh’s test helps doctors determine which children will benefit most from – or absolutely need – radiation, a treatment that has significant long-term side effects in children. He is now trying to develop an even easier and faster test to ensure children with medulloblastoma get the right treatments.


Other cancers

dropper and beakerRene L. Galindo, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas is studying the cause of the muscle-type tumor rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive tumor that strikes children. By correcting the defective behavior of the genes identified in a model system, cells lose their tumor behavior. The goal is to inform the development of a new drug treatment for this tumor.


Rani George Rani E. George, MD, PhD, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston is exploring a genetic abnormality in the cells of neuroblastoma associated with resistance to treatment with crizotinib. The ultimate goal of this study is to develop treatment strategies for this pediatric tumor.




Palliative care and quality of life

Treating the pain, symptoms, and distress of cancer experienced by children and their families is as important as treating the disease itself. Because two-thirds of children with pediatric cancers suffer long term effects from treatment including loss of hearing and sight, heart disease, secondary cancers, learning disabilities and more, the Society is also directing much needed grant support to research focused on managing these quality of life issues through provision of palliative care alongside oncology treatment through an innovative partnership with the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC.org) initiated in 2007.

Pediatric palliative care researchers currently funded by the Society include:

Michelle Fortier Michelle Fortier, PhD, at the University of California, Irvine, is exploring using mobile technology to collect a diary of pain and symptoms that will address the significant gap in knowledge of pain and symptoms management of children’s cancer.



Anne Kazak Anne E. Kazak, PhD, ABPP at the Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children of The Nemours Foundation in Wilmington, Delaware is working to assure that all children and family members facing cancer are assessed and provided with access to emotional and social support they may need to minimize distress and improve quality of life and functioning.



Sean Morrison

Sean Morrison, MD, a palliative care expert at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and director of the Lilian and Benjamin Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute and the National Palliative Care Research Center has spent his career working to improve and increase the availability of palliative care. Morrison is now working to do even more to enhance this type of care for cancer patients using an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor grant. The grant will work to expand two programs. One of these is dedicated to funding researchers in the area of pediatric palliative cancer care. Morrison’s goals are to generate much-needed research in this area and to encourage young researchers to come into the field.


Also of note, in 2013, the Society honored one of its former research grantees, Dana Farber pediatric oncologist Dr. Joanne Wolfe, with its American Cancer Society Pathfinder in Palliative Care Award.

*Information current as of August 1, 2015.

Other Ways ACS Fights Childhood Cancer


In addition to conducting and funding childhood cancer research, the American Cancer Society helps fight childhood cancer through education, support services, and advocacy. Explore how the Society helps:

  • The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the Society, advocates for childhood cancer through public policy including pushing for increased federal funding for research, legislation to promote palliative care, and the inclusion of patient protection provisions in the Affordable Care Act that are vitally important in the context of childhood cancer and survivorship. Learn more>
  • The American Cancer Society publishes many books that address the needs of children who have been diagnosed with cancer or are dealing with cancer in someone they love. Learn more>
  • If your child has just been diagnosed with cancer, is going through treatment, or is trying to stay well after treatment, the Cancer in Children section of the Society’s website will help you find the answers you need. Learn more>