WHO announces global initiative to reduce mortality from childhood cancer

Categories: Care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer – with the aim of reaching at least a 60% survival rate for children with cancer by 2030, thereby saving an additional one million lives. This new target represents a doubling of the global cure rate for children with cancer.

Cancer is a leading cause of death for children, with 300,000 new cases diagnosed each year among children aged 0-19 years.

Aims of the Initiative

The aims of the Initiative are two-fold: to increase prioritization of childhood cancer through awareness raising at global and national levels and to expand the capacity of countries to deliver best practice in childhood cancer care. Concretely, WHO will support governments to assess current capacities in cancer diagnosis and treatment including the availability of medicines and technologies; set and cost priority cancer diagnosis and treatment programmes; and integrate childhood cancer into national strategies, health benefits packages and social insurance schemes.

The reasons for lower survival rates in LMICs include an inability to obtain an accurate diagnosis, inaccessible therapy, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity (side effects), and excess relapse, in part due to lack of access to essential medicines and technologies addressing each of these gaps improves survival and can be highly cost-effective.

What causes cancer in children?

Unlike cancer in adults, the vast majority of childhood cancers do not have a known cause. Many studies have sought to identify the causes of childhood cancer, but very few cancers in children are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. Cancer prevention efforts in children should focus on behaviours that will prevent the child from developing preventable cancer as an adult.

Key facts

The following key facts about childhood cancer are to be found on the WHO website.

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents around the world and approximately 300,000 children aged 0 to 19 years old are diagnosed with cancer each year.
  • The most common categories of childhood cancers include leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and solid tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumour.
  • In high-income countries more than 80% of children with cancer are cured, but in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) only about 20% are cured.
  • Childhood cancer generally cannot be prevented or screened.
  • Improving outcomes for children with cancer requires early and accurate diagnosis followed by effective treatment.
  • Most childhood cancers can be cured with generic medicines and other forms of treatments including surgery and radiotherapy. Treatment of childhood cancer can be cost-effective in all income settings.
  • Avoidable deaths from childhood cancers in LMICs result from lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, obstacles to accessing care, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity, and higher rates of relapse.
  • Childhood cancer data systems are needed to drive continuous improvements in the quality of care, and to drive policy decisions.

Read more on the WHO website.