Kids surviving cancer more often than ever

Olivia Lafond
Olivia Lafond
CBS News

One of the biggest advances in the world of cancer treatment has been in the survival of children with cancer.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports that an estimated 11,210 new cases are expected to occur among children 0 to 14 years of age in 2011. Childhood cancers are rare, representing less than 1 percent of all new cancer diagnoses. Overall, childhood cancer incidence rates have been increasing slightly by 0.6 percent per year since 1975.

Olivia Lafond, 4, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2009.

"I thought she was going to die," said Jennifer Lafond, Olivia's mother.

Forty years ago, kids with Olivia's type of cancer had just a 5 percent chance of survival. Now it's higher than 50 percent. After chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants, Olivia shows no signs of cancer.

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Since the mid-1970s, the survival rate for most childhood cancers has climbed from 58 percent to 80 percent, compared to just 68 percent for adults.

Dr. Paul Meyers treats kids at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He credits improvements in cancer fighting drugs. He said there is something about being a child that gives doctors a head start in the fight.

"The treatments that we use to treat cancer chemotherapy, these are very intense therapies they have a lot of side effects. Children are healthier. They have not done damage to their bodies with smoking and drinking and we can use more intensive therapies in children than our colleagues who treat adults," Meyers said.

Those intensive therapies may have long lasting effects. A study of 14,000 childhood cancer survivors found 10 percent developed new tumors. Another study found women survivors were 3 times more likely to have miscarriages than healthy siblings. Radiation and anti-cancer drugs are suspected.

Jennifer Lafond says the key to survival is to have faith.

Whether it's faith or science, Olivia has become one of the 360,000 American children who have survived cancer.

  • Michelle Miller
    Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.