Pediatric cancer in NJ getting more attention and funding with new laws
New Jersey now has its own fund devoted specifically to pediatric cancer research, with a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in September.
Another new law devotes $5 million to the fund to start things off.
Medical professionals are praising the move, suggesting the cause has been historically underfunded, compared to more common types of cancer such as breast or prostate cancer.
"The good news is that most children with cancer are cured, but to us in pediatrics, most is not good enough," said Dr. Peter Cole, director of the pediatric hematology, oncology, and cellular therapies program at Bristol Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
One of the new laws makes it possible for taxpayers to contribute to pediatric cancer research through gross income tax returns.
According to Cole, cure rates from the past several decades prove the power of well-funded research in this area. A child diagnosed 50 years ago with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, for example, had a 10% or so chance of being alive five years later, Cole said. Today, a child with the same type of leukemia has nearly a 90% chance of being cured.
Cole said additional research is necessary in order to continue improving cure rates, and to improve treatments so that they cause fewer side effects in children.
"Even among the children who are being cured, the treatments themselves cause miserable acute toxicity and, in many cases, the treatment causes organ damage that is permanent," Cole said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Jersey has the third highest rate of pediatric cancer in the nation.