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2015
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We Are Astonishingly Good At Curing Childhood Cancer. Why?

Treatment for cancer has increased dramatically since the 1950s

When Maggie Rogers was four and a half years old, her kidney ruptured. She was playing with her dad, she recalls, and was running to jump on him, and when she landed she found herself in immense pain. Her parents took her to the hospital where they told her that she would be just fine, but after getting a second opinion and a slew of tests, her doctors discovered a tumor the size of a softball on her kidney. She was diagnosed with stage 3 nephroblastoma, a kidney cancer diagnosed in just 500 kids per year.

Maggie's doctors removed her tumor and what was left of her kidney; she was then treated with radiation therapy and, over the next year and a half, received multiple rounds of chemo. She left preschool, only knowing that she was sick and needed strong medicine. And though she doesn't remember everything because she was so young, Maggie recalls a certain amount of normalcy in her years of treatment. Every week, her mom drove her to get chemo, and they would stop by her favorite burrito place, which sold the only food that Maggie would eat. She had little games: as Maggie would get her blood drawn, her mom would ride up the elevator and see if she could be back before the phlebotomist finished. "When my hair would fall out, I would take clumps and throw them out the car window because I wanted birds to make a nest with it," she says. She started kindergarten bald; her classmates nicknamed her "the bald eagle," which she hated, so she became the class clown, "so that kids would laugh at me about something other than that."

At age six, Maggie went into remission. Her hair grew back, and her checkups became less frequent. "I remember it being a big deal when I graduated to one follow-up visit per year," she recalls. Neither she nor her family came through the experience unscathed, but she had survived, enabling her to live a normal adult life. Neither she nor her family came through the experience unscathed, but she survived.

Maggie is one of thousands of children who develop cancer and, through rigorous treatment and holistic care by doctors and families, beat the disease. Treatment for cancer has increased dramatically since the 1950s, and nowhere is that more evident than in pediatric oncology; of the thousands of children treated in the U.S. for cancer every year, 80 percent of them will go into remission and go on to live productive lives-significantly higher than the five-year survival numbers for general oncology, which are 63 percent chance of survival for female patients and 66 percent for men. This disparity exists in part because of biology-the types of cancers that kids get, the strength of their immune systems-and because pediatric oncologists treat patients very differently than do general oncologists. The field isn't perfect; some of the kids who survive have health issues later in life, and curing the remaining 20 percent of patients won't be easy. But general oncologists can learn a few things about how pediatricians achieved this remarkable cure rate, and may be able to collaborate with them to discover new, less toxic treatments to benefit patients of any age.

"Childhood cancer is a different animal. Even though it has a similar end point [as adult cancers], the body in which it occurs is quite different than that of an adult," says Alan Gamis, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Read more via Popular Science.