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Update 12/9/2018: This post has been updated to include the latest statistics, our updated spending figures for children’s cancer research and the work we’re doing to support Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2018.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness around children’s cancers.

Every year, around 4,500 children and young people in the UK (ages 0-24) are diagnosed with cancer*. But while survival for this group has improved a lot in the last 40 years, more needs to be done. Not only to increase survival but to ensure that those who do survive, do so with a good quality of life.

September is therefore an important time for us to talk about Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens, a fundraising campaign we set up to support research into new, better and kinder treatments for children and young people with cancer.

Deciding how we approach this challenge isn’t easy, especially with a subject as emotive as children’s cancers. And we’re asked a lot of questions about the ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘how much’ decisions we make when funding research, and about our campaign.

Here, Dr Ian Walker, Director of Clinical Research at Cancer Research UK, answers some of the most common questions.

How does Cancer Research UK decide what research to fund?

As a charity, we don’t allocate set amounts of money to specific types of cancer. Instead, the amount we spend on different cancers depends on the number of high quality research proposals we get from researchers.

We decide what research to fund based solely on the applications submitted to us by the research community. And that’s why the range of research we fund and the amount we spend on different cancers changes each year.

The process works by scientists or doctors submitting a research proposal to us based on what they would like to work on. This proposal is reviewed by an international panel of experts and then further discussed by a second, separate panel of experts. Each research proposal is judged on its scientific merit, strategic priority, feasibility and the impact it could have for people with cancer.

If the panels decide the research is of the highest quality, that it will increase our understanding of cancer, and ultimately underpins improvements in outcomes for patients, we agree to fund it.

In some instances, we do put out calls to researchers to apply to us for funding – for example in  our Grand Challenge awards and our newly launched Brain Tumour Awards.

You can learn more about the process here and here.

What percentage of the money you spend on research goes towards cancers affecting children and young people?

In 2017/18 we spent £6.6 million on research grants specifically focused on cancers affecting children and young people, making us one of the biggest funders of children’s cancer research in the UK. This equates to 1.6% of the £423 million we paid out in 2017/18 on charitable activities.  You can read more about this in our Annual Report and Accounts.

We also invest a huge amount of money (£104 million in 2017/18) in research to understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of cancers’ many forms. This includes research into what goes wrong in cancer cells, what their weaknesses are, and how they develop in the first place. This work is relevant to all types of cancer, including those affecting children and young people. And it plays a vital role in the development of new, better and kinder ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

A large amount of the money we spend outside of research grants is used to give scientists the best facilities and services in which to carry out their life-saving work. This includes establishing and running our Centres, Institutes, biobanks and Clinical Trials Units across the UK. We also co-fund Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs), which bring world-leading doctors, research nurses and technical staff together to develop and test new cancer treatments.

This work includes funding and running a paediatric Clinical Trials Unit, a paediatric ECMC network and a paediatric biobank across the UK.

So while we spent £6.6 million on research specifically into children’s cancers in 2017/18, the money we spend on fundamental cancer research and on creating a world-class research environment will also help us beat children’s cancers sooner.

What happens to any excess funds that are raised but aren’t spent?

Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens is a restricted fundraising campaign. This means 100% of the money raised through the campaign is used to fund research into cancers affecting children and young people. But it doesn’t mean that we always spend all of the donations we receive in a given year.

That’s because we won’t fund sub-standard projects that our expert reviewers believe won’t increase our understanding of cancers that affect children and young people or bring benefits to patients. Instead, any excess funds are carried over to next year, where they are available to fund high quality research proposals we receive that year.

What are you doing to generate more research into children’s cancers?

Cancers affecting children and young people have always been important to us, and we have a strong track record when it comes to working in this area.

But we are still losing too many children to cancer, and some survivors have long-term side effects that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

In order to accelerate progress, we need to see an increase in the number of high-quality research proposals we receive. Part of the reason we don’t receive as many research proposals for children’s cancers is because there are fewer researchers working in this area. That’s why we’re working to boost interest among younger researchers across the UK and encourage them to consider working on children’s cancers.

We’ve also been working on the services and facilities required for delivering high quality research on cancers affecting children and young people. This includes funding a paediatric Clinical Trials Unit and a biobank, which collects tissue and blood samples generously donated by young patients involved in research. And in 2018, we announced funding for the new Cancer Research UK Children’s Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence.

These critical resources ensure high-quality research can be carried out into cancers that affect children and young people.

Why don’t you just allocate more funds to children’s cancer research?

Because of the way we fund research, we can’t simply allocate more money to children’s cancer research.

We know that new, better and kinder treatments are needed for children and young people diagnosed with cancer, and we are committed to doing more to make this happen.

But unfortunately, it’s not as simple as spending more money in this area. It’s about spending money in the right way, on the right research.

We know that part of this will come from attracting more high-quality research proposals, which is why we’re working with researchers to make this happen.

That’s why we’ve created a new role in Cancer Research UK – a children’s cancers manger – who’s looking at how we can best work with the children’s cancer research community to identify ways of increasing the number and quality of research proposals we receive in this area.


Right now, if we received more high quality research proposals for work on children’s cancers we could fund them. And if the number of fundable proposals exceeded the amount available to us through restricted donations, we would use money from other budgets to fund them.

What research are you doing to improve things for children with cancer?

Right now, our scientists across the UK are researching cancers that affect children and young people.

Professor Richard Gilbertson in Cambridge is studying medulloblastoma and why some children diagnosed with the disease do better than others. He hopes that understanding more about the disease, and its different subtypes, will help doctors get the right treatment to the right patient.

And Dr Katrin Ottersbach at the University of Edinburgh is looking into the biology of B cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and how it develops in infants. She hopes this work will lead to the discovery of new targets for treatment for this type of cancer.

We’re also funding the new Cancer Research UK Children’s Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence. It will be a hub of expertise for children’s brain tumour research and aims to transform the way treatments for these tumours are developed.

We had some exciting results in 2018 from one of our children’s cancers clinical trials. The trial showed that combining a drug with cisplatin chemotherapy halves the risk of hearing loss in young patients with a type of liver cancer called hepatoblastoma.


And recently, we announced a new funding scheme to create Cancer Research UK Centres of Excellence for brain tumours. Scientists working on adult and childhood brain tumours can apply for this funding.

Are you supporting the ‘Glow Gold’ campaign this year?

In 2018, our newly appointed senior communications and marketing manager for children’s cancers has been working with teams across the Charity to increase our support of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Our shop windows feature a sticker and gold ribbon balloons promoting the month, and posters promoting the TK Maxx Give Up Clothes For Good campaign. And we have gold ribbon pin badges for sale instore, as well as research leaflets showing our work on children’s and young people’s cancers and the challenges that remain. Gold ribbon pin badges are also available in TK Maxx shops.

We are carrying out a range of activities across print, digital and social media to support the awareness month. This will include a paid social media and digital campaign, allowing us to reach hundreds of thousands of people.

We will also feature stories about children’s cancers throughout the month on our dedicated Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Facebook and Twitter channels, including a focus on side effects, the research we’re doing and the impact a cancer diagnosis has on siblings.

And finally, we’ll be emailing all our supporters who are happy to hear from us about fundraising to drive awareness of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the TK Maxx Give Up Clothes For Good Campaign.

Why do you feature such a large number of children in your adverts when you don’t fund much research into children’s cancers?

Children, young people and their families feature in our advertising campaigns because we want to show the reality of cancer and how it affects peoples’ lives, including children and young people.

We often hear from those affected by children’s and young people’s cancer that more needs to be done to increase awareness of the fact that children and young people get cancer. Featuring these young patients in our advertising campaign is one way that we can help do this.

We are also looking at how we can better demonstrate the fact that children and young people can experience serious, long-term side effects because of their treatment.


Having seen one of our advertisements featuring a child, if someone wants to donate to research into children’s and young people’s cancers, they can do so via the Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens website, or via our main donation page if they opt to restrict their donation to under 25s research.

What can I do to support Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens?

The best way to find out more about Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens, including how to support the campaign, is on the Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens website.

Dr Ian Walker, Director of Clinical Research at Cancer Research UK.

*Average annual number of cancer cases (all cancers combined plus non-malignant brain, other central nervous system and intracranial tumours: ICD10 C00-C97, D32-D33, D35.2-D35.4, D42-D43 and D44.3-D44.5) diagnosed in children and young people aged 0-24 years in the UK in 2013-15. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/childrens-cancers#heading-Zero http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/teenagers-and-young-adults-cancers#heading-Zero

Comments

Aine McCarthy September 6, 2017

Hi KR,
Thanks for your comment.

We have a long track record of funding high quality research into brain tumours. For example, work we funded for many years led to a new way of treating children with medulloblastoma. Published in 2003, the results showed that adding chemotherapy to radiotherapy can improve the quality of life for children living with the disease.

And in 2007 results were published from a 10-year clinical trial we co-funded showing that in young children with an ependymoma, using chemotherapy instead of radiotherapy reduces the risk of long-term side effects.

Despite advances like this, survival for brain tumours remains stubbornly low. That’s why we’re still working to improve outcomes for people diagnosed with a brain tumour.

As part of our research strategy, we committed to increasing the amount we spend on brain tumour research. We’re funding research looking at how brain tumours grow, spread and change over time, which could help scientists develop new treatments.

We’ve also recruited Professor Richard Gilbertson as Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Cancer Centre. He’s a brain tumour expert carrying out research to improve treatment and survival for children with brain tumours.

Recently, we also announced a new funding scheme to create Cancer Research UK Centres of Excellence for brain tumours. Scientists working on adult and children’s brain tumours can apply for this funding. We hope that by doing this we can create the best environment for world-leading brain tumour research.

Best wishes,

Áine, Cancer Research UK

KR September 3, 2017

Please explain why you have used brain tumours in children to raise funds for a considerable amount of time, when in fact you have only recently decided to offer a tiny amount of support in this area, even though it’s the biggest killer in under 40’s