Childhood cancer day data finds alarming rich-poor country divide

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Photo: WHO

Cancer in children is more common than previously thought, health experts said Monday.

On International Childhood Cancer Day, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that new data also showed a clear discrepancy between rich and poor countries.

For while childhood cancer represents less than one per cent of all sickness in developed countries, that figure can be five times higher than in poorer nations, scientists from IARC said.

Daniel Johnson reports.

New estimates by WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer show that more children suffer from the disease than was thought previously.

Worldwide, some 215,000 cancers are diagnosed per year in under 15-year-olds, and another 85,000 in 15 to 19-year-olds.

That makes cancer rare in children, especially in developed countries, where it represents less than one per cent of all cancers.

But it's a different story in poorer, developing nations, where children may make up half the population, and where the cancer rate can be five times higher.

Here's International Agency for Research on Cancer scientist, Dr Eva Steliarova-Foucher:

"So the bulk of these cases occur in Asia, African and Latin America, this means that most of the attention should be devoted to these regions, because children with cancer in these regions have much worse outcomes than those who are diagnosed in Europe or North America."

And although leukaemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in most world regions, representing around 35 per cent of childhood cancers, it is rarely diagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer's says it's not clear whether this is owing to missed diagnosis or other reasons, such as the belief that cancer is fatal, and therefore untreatable, which is not necessarily the case.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'20"

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