Newly published data gives hope, shows higher survival rates for childhood brain cancers

New study provides hope for children diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer, with improvements in treatments resulting in better survival since the early 1980s. 

Cancer Council Queensland researchers, in collaboration with clinicians from the Perth Children’s Hospital and the Queensland Children’s hospital, have revealed their findings in a newly published paper on Incidence and survival for childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors in Australia, which included children diagnosed in the period 1983 to 2016

These tumors account for an estimated 21% of childhood cancers diagnosed worldwide and represent the most common cause of childhood cancer-related deaths in Australia, responsible for about 40% of all childhood cancer mortality nationally. 

Lead author Associate Professor Danny Youlden explains “The positive news from this research is that, although incidence rates have been increasing, there have been corresponding gains in survival for several types of CNS tumors.” 

The study found that, on average, approximately 170 Australian children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with a tumor of the central nervous system each year, and around 40 die from the disease. 

Incidence rates of childhood central nervous system tumors increased by a total of 29% between 1983 and 2016, with at least some of this increase likely to be explained by improvements in diagnostic technology over the last few decades. 

The results indicated that survival was strongly linked to the type of central nervous system tumor and the tumor grade, which measures how abnormal the cancers cells are and how likely a tumor is to grow and spread. 

Significant improvements in survival were recorded for children with ependymoma and medulloblastoma, but not for those with astrocytoma or a high grade glioma. 


The study was based on data from the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry, which is managed and funded by Cancer Council Queensland and is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive databanks of childhood cancer in the world. 


Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan congratulates the authors on their research, which has been accepted into the Journal of Neuro-Oncology. “We are proud to see Cancer Council Queensland release these important findings, made possible by the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry.” 

“Cancer in children is rare and difficult to study, and it is only by pooling information from all children diagnosed across Australia that we can begin to fill in the gaps in our understanding to enable the best possible outcomes”.  

“The impact of childhood cancer goes far beyond the numbers. It’s a tragic moment when a family is given the news their child has cancer, and the burden goes beyond the physical – it can affect finances, emotional stability, mental health and many other aspects of life,” Ms McMillan said.  

Although survival rates for some diagnosed with CNS cancer have increased, Assoc Prof Youlden warns that “the fight against childhood brain cancer is far from over – further research is needed into new therapies to improve outcomes for children diagnosed with tumor types that remain associated with poorer survival. 

Research like this is made possible by the generosity of Queenslanders. 

For more information about Cancer Council Queensland and the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry please visit /research/viertel-cancer-research-centre/childhood-cancer/australian-childhood-cancer-registry/ 

For the published paper: Incidence and survival for childhood central nervous system tumors in Australia, 1983-2016 please visit


For more information, or interviews, please contact:
Grace Lingard, Public Relations Coordinator, Cancer Council Queensland
E: Ph: (07) 3634 5112 or 0428 580 363