The world adds about four Lakh children and adolescents with cancer every year. Moreover, the children in high-income countries have better option of curing than the children in other nations, according to the World Health Oganisation.
The WHO came out with estimates on February 15, the day of International Childhood Cancer. It said that leukemias, lymphomas, brain cancer, and solid tumours are the cancers that affect children.
When 85 per cent of the children in high-income countries get cured, only 15 to 45 per cent of children in Low and Middle Income Countries are cured. The WHO said that most childhood cancers could be cured with generic medicines and other forms such as surgery and radiotherapy.
It said that lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, obstacles to accessing care, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity, and higher rates of relapse leads avoidable deaths from childhood cancers in LMICs.
Cancer can occur in people irrespective of age. It starts with a genetic change in single cells. It grows into a mass (or tumour) and invades other parts of the body. Unlike cancer in adults, most of the childhood cancers do not have a known cause. Environmental exposure or lifestyle factors are lesser-known facts causing cancer in children.
The WHO says that chronic infections like HIV, malaria and Epstein-Barr virus are risk factors for childhood cancer. The organisation says that present data shows that approximately ten per cent of all children with cancer have a predisposition because of genetic factors.
The WHO says that the most effective strategy to reduce the burden of cancer in children and improve outcomes is to focus on a prompt, correct diagnosis followed by effective, evidence-based therapy with tailored supportive care.
The WHO says that early identifications help in effective treatment. There is less suffering, greater probability of survival and less expensive and less intensive treatment. A correct and proper diagnosis is essential as each of the cancers require a specific treatment regimen that may include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. It said that Childhood cancer was associated with a range of warning symptoms and easily detected by families and by trained primary health-care providers.
Screening is not helpful for childhood cancers, the WHO said. However, it said that this could help in select cases. It also mentioned that genetic causes of childhood cancers are relevant in only a handful of children.
The WHO launched the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer in 2018 to provide leadership and technical assistance to governments to support them in building and sustaining high-quality childhood cancer programmes. The goal of the initiative is to achieve about 60 per cent survival for all children with cancer and reduce suffering by 2030. The objectives of the Initiative are:
- to increase capacity of countries to deliver best practices in childhood cancer care
- to Increase prioritization of childhood cancer at the global, regional and national levels
WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other UN organizations and partners, to:
- increase political commitment for childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment
- support governments to develop high-quality cancer centres and regional satellites to ensure early and accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for children
- develop standards and tools to guide the planning and implementation of interventions for early diagnosis, treatment and palliative and survivorship care
- improve access to affordable and essential medicines and technologies
- support governments to safeguard families of children with cancer from financial ruin and social isolation as a result of cancer care.