It’s official: Brain cancer has replaced leukemia as the leading cause of cancer deaths among children and adolescents.

In 1999, almost a third of cancer deaths among patients aged 1 to 19 were attributable to leukemia while about a quarter were caused by brain cancer. By 2014, those percentages were reversed, according to a report published Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a milestone moment, a kind of changing of the guard,” said Sally Curtin, who was the lead author of the report. She said the change reflected a reduction in deaths from leukemia, rather than an increase in deaths from brain cancer.

Overall, the report showed, cancer death rates among children and adolescents dropped 20 percent between 1999 and 2014, continuing a long-term trend.

The number of brain-cancer deaths first exceeded those from leukemia in 2011, Curtin said, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the gap was large enough that statisticians concluded it was “a true finding.”

The decrease in deaths from leukemia, once universally lethal, is a result of the enormous strides oncologists have made in recent decades in developing effective chemotherapy regimens and finding the best ways to use radiation and bone-marrow transplants, said Elizabeth Ward, senior vice president for intramural research at the American Cancer Society.

By contrast, she said “brain cancers are generally very hard to treat,” partly because surgeons have to be careful not to damage healthy tissue during operations and partly because of the blood-brain barrier, which prevents some drugs from getting into the brain

By Laurie McGinley, September 16 2016

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