Preserving the family medical history of cancer in children collected over 30 years.

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Dr John Bithell in March 2020. This project has been put on hold until further notice.

The Oxford Survey of Childhood Cancers was begun in the 1950s by Dr Alice Stewart with the aim of identifying the causes of childhood cancer. Data on children dying in Britain was collected for almost 30 years, resulting in details of over 23,000 children who died of cancer or leukaemia. For most of these the parents were interviewed, together with a matched healthy control child for each.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Preservation and analysis of pathology records and family histories of children with cancer

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr John Bithell

  • Research Centre

    University of Oxford

  • City & Institution Postcode


  • Start Date

    1 July 2018

  • Duration

    24 months

  • Grant Amount


pipettes in a laboratory


Many papers have been written about the findings of this survey. It appears that rather few cases can be accounted for by external factors and that most childhood cancers are determined by complex genetic factors. It seems likely that inherited genetic patterns could be revealed by studying the medical histories of the children and their families. Although much of the information from this survey has been saved, as a result of a previous grant from Children with Cancer UK, some paper records were archived when the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford had to close in 2014. These records are at risk of being destroyed soon and the team wish to preserve the information by scanning the documents into computer-viewable image files. This will make it possible for future researchers to investigate particular tumours, some of which are very rare.

Potential impact

The project will ensure that one of the largest datasets in the world will remain available for researchers interested in any of the many different forms of cancer in children and in their causes. The data will then be useful for future research in several areas, including the study of congenital anomalies to throw light on genetic connections with childhood cancer, and the analysis of families with two or more affected children in order to estimate the risks to siblings of affected children.

About the research team

Dr John Bithell has worked on these and related data since 1970 and has now retired. He has extensive knowledge of the survey and the data it contains. He is supported in a consulting capacity by other colleagues associated with the Childhood Cancer Research Group (CCRG): Dr Gerald Draper OBE, Director of the CCRG from 1975-2002; Dr Mike Murphy, Director from 2002-2014; Charles Stiller, who worked in the CCRG with responsibility for the National Registry of Childhood Tumours from 1976 to 2014; and Tim Vincent, who managed the data processing within the CCRG from 1987 to 2014.
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