Childhood cancer mortality has fallen significantly in the US, but disparities have emerged, CDC report shows

The death rate for cancer among children in the United States is a quarter lower than it was two decades ago, but the declines haven’t been equitable across all groups, according to a report published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 2.1 cancer deaths for every 100,000 children younger than 20 in 2021, down from about 2.8 in 2001, according to the report — a 24% drop.

Death rates dropped at similar rates for Black, White and Hispanic children between 2001 and 2011, and there was not a significant gap in mortality. But rates continued to decline only for White children in the following decade. In 2021, the cancer death rate among Black and Hispanic children was about 20% higher than it was for White children, according to the CDC report.

Childhood cancer mortality dropped across all age groups between 2001 and 2011, but the significant decline continued only among those younger than 10 between 2011 and 2021, the report shows. Still, the cancer death rate among teens — who have had a higher mortality rate than other children — was 23% lower in 2021 than it was in 2001.

Death rates from leukemia, once the most common cause of cancer death among children in the US, were nearly cut in half between 2001 and 2021.

Brain cancer has since become the leading cause of childhood cancer mortality, leading to about a quarter of all cancer deaths among those younger than 20.

Overall, cancer was the fourth leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 19 in the US, according to data from the CDC.

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