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.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) latest estimates on the global burden of cancer, the global cancer burden is estimated to have risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018.
One in 5 men and one in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease. Worldwide, the total number of people who are alive within 5 years of a cancer diagnosis, called the 5-year prevalence, is estimated to be 43.8 million – IARC
The GLOBOCAN 2018 database, accessible online as part of the IARC Global Cancer Observatory, provides estimates of incidence and mortality in 185 countries for 36 types of cancer and for all cancer sites combined.
An analysis of these results, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, highlights the large geographical diversity in cancer occurrence and the variations in the magnitude and profile of the disease between and within world regions.
The increasing cancer burden is due to several factors, including population growth and ageing as well as the changing prevalence of certain causes of cancer linked to social and economic development. This is particularly true in rapidly growing economies, where a shift is observed from cancers related to poverty and infections to cancers associated with lifestyles more typical of industrialized countries.
Cancer occurs in people of all ages and can affect any part of the body. It begins with genetic changes in a single cell that then grows out of control. In many cancers, this results in a mass (or tumour). If left untreated, cancer generally expands, invades other parts of the body and causes death.
According to the WHO, current data suggest that approximately 10% of all children with cancer have a predisposition because of genetic factors. Ongoing research is needed to identify factors impacting cancer development 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.
Some chronic infections are risk factors for childhood cancer and have major relevance in low- and middle-income countries. For example, HIV, Epstein-Barr virus and malaria increase the risk of some childhood cancers. Other infections can increase the child’s risk of developing cancer as an adult, so it is important to be vaccinated and other pursue other methods such as early diagnosis or screening to decrease chronic infections that lead to cancer, whether in childhood or later.