Brain cancer is now the deadliest childhood cancer in the US, moving ahead of leukemia as a result of improved leukemia treatment and a frustrating lack of progress on brain cancer. Government statisticians reported the change in rankings Friday, drawing from a review of 15 years of death certificates, the AP reports. Cancer is the fourth leading cause of death—behind accidental injuries, suicide, and murder—for children overall, accounting for about 1 in 10 childhood deaths in 2014. About a quarter these cancer deaths, or 534, were due to brain cancer. There were 445 leukemia deaths. There are still more new cases of leukemia each year than new cases of brain cancer, but it no longer accounts for the most deaths.
The rate of death from brain cancer (about 0.7 per 100,000 children ages 1 through 19, versus 0.6 for leukemia) has held at about the same level for at least 15 years, according to the CDC report. The brain is protected by a barrier which helps keeps many dangerous chemicals—including many cancer drugs—from getting to brain tissue or brain tumors. Surgery is difficult and sometimes impossible, depending on where the tumor is located, and radiation treatment can damage the development of a child's brain. Another factor is that scientists have only recently begun to understand that pediatric brain cancers may be biologically different from adult versions and could require different approaches to treatment. (Read more childhood cancer stories.)