World Cancer Day Focuses on Childhood Cancers
A new report on childhood cancers summarizes the progress that has been made in treating these diseases in recent decades, while also documenting the disparities that exist in cancer care for children around the world. The authors emphasize the need for parents to recognize signs of the disease and to seek medical treatment from trained professionals whenever possible.
The report, Childhood Cancer: Rising to the Challenge, will be released on February 4, which has been designated World Cancer Day. The International Union Against Cancer (UICC), a nongovernmental organization based in Geneva, produced the report and will make it available on their Web site.
On World Cancer Day, the UICC and its collaborators will focus attention on access to cancer care for children in developing countries and the critical importance of a proper diagnosis early in the disease.
"Knowing the common signs and symptoms of childhood cancer is one of the most important steps in fighting this disease and saving thousands of children's lives each year," says Isabel Mortara, executive director of the UICC. "Too many children are unnecessarily dying each year because they are not diagnosed or are diagnosed too late."
In the United States and Western Europe, the treatment of childhood cancers is a success story of modern medicine. Advances made since the 1960s, when there was little expectation that children with cancer would survive, have led to cure rates of 80 percent for many childhood tumors.
But the progress has exposed a huge divide between countries that are rich in resources and those that lack resources, notes Dr. Tim Eden of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology in the report's introduction.
"Of the children who develop leukemia and cancer, 80 percent live in poor or developing countries where in the face of other huge challenges - including starvation, drought, natural disasters, and infection - cancer is not yet considered a priority," Dr. Eden writes.
To address this issue, the UICC initiated a project last year entitled "My Child Matters." Money has been allocated to 14 projects in 10 low- and middle-income countries to increase awareness and improve the coordination of care and the training for professionals working with cancer in children. Sanofi-Aventis is funding about three-quarters of the projects, with the remainder funded by NCI.
"These projects will help communicate the message that childhood cancer can be treated and is often curable," says Dr. Franco Cavalli, Chair of the UICC Childhood Cancer Campaign Advisory Committee. The projects will occur in Bangladesh, Egypt, Honduras, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
The report also discusses the social and cultural beliefs that determine how some parents in developing countries view cancer. For instance, families who feel they are being punished by their child's illness may not seek timely medical care or even follow prescribed medication.
"It is not enough to introduce Western-style medicine into a community while ignoring the social and cultural beliefs underlying attitudes towards the disease," the authors write. Acknowledging these beliefs will be critical to making advances in childhood cancer treatment more widely available around the world, they conclude.