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Nearly half of childhood cancer cases go untreated and undiagnosed

Published on 01/03/19 at 09:29am

Almost half of all children with cancer are going untreated and undiagnosed, according to research published in Lancet Oncology.

While just 3% of childhood cancer cases in Western Europe and North America are thought to have been missed in 2015, 49% of cases in South Asia and 57% of cases in West Africa went undiagnosed.

“It means that a lot of these children unfortunately are dying at home untreated,” said Zachary Ward, first author of the research from Harvard University. “Cancer survival even among diagnosed cases is already poor in these countries, but it is going to be basically 0% for children if they are not identified.”

Many children around the world face difficulties accessing treatment, while often their symptoms are mistaken for other diseases such as malaria of TB.

“Once we started to consider really what the challenges are that these children face, it is not that surprising that we are missing so many of them in these countries,” Ward said.

Using data from 77 countries, the researchers were able to build a model through which they estimated that there were 397,000 cases of childhood cancer around the world in 2015, only 224,000 of which were diagnosed. As such, 43% of cases were missed.

The researchers said that 92% of all childhood cancers occur in low and middle income countries, with particularly high rates in Western Africa.

“The good news is that universal health coverage expansion, which a lot of countries have already committed themselves to, will help children access the health system,” Ward added.

Dr Claudia Allemani, associate professor of cancer epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commented: “Only real world data can give us the true picture in a given country or region of the world. Cancer registries must be given the legislative, political and financial stability to collect complete and high-quality data in a timely fashion.”

Louis Goss

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