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Children in developing world bear the burden of cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 February 2003

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Nine out of ten childhood cancer deaths take place in the developing world1. Yet, if the necessary resources and expertise were available across the world, Cancer Research UK reveals tens of thousands of deaths could be prevented each year.

In countries like the UK and USA, survival rates are particularly high – more than seven out of 10 children are still alive five years after diagnosis.

In the developing world, however, the majority of children with cancer are either not diagnosed, or are denied life-saving treatment. In India, for example, more than 10,700 children die of cancer each year, compared to less than 350 children in the UK.

Cancer Research UK reveals the figures at a press conference today to mark International Childhood Cancer Day, which takes place on Saturday February 15, 2003.

The event is organised by the International Confederation of Childhood Cancer Parent Organisations (ICCCPO). It aims to educate the public about children’s cancer and raise funds to help young cancer patients across the globe.

Professor Vaskar Saha, Head of Cancer Research UK’s Children’s Cancer Group, says: “More than seven out of ten children diagnosed with cancer in this country can look forward to living a normal life. This tremendous achievement is considerably diminished when we consider that, on an international front, these advances have failed to improve the outcome of 90 per cent of children with cancer.

“This is due to a combination of many factors. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of proper medical facilities, inadequate health networks, absence of health education and the cost of chemotherapeutic agents.

“Where partnerships have been forged between units in the west and those in the developing world, it has been possible to overcome many of these obstacles, dramatically improving not only the quality of life but overall survival of children with cancer – even where resources are very limited.

“What is required is an international campaign, so successful with AIDS, to improve the supply and reduce the cost of the drugs used to treat cancer in these countries, and a commitment from those more privileged to help those in the developing world to help themselves.”

Marianne Naafs-Wilstra, Chairman of ICCCPO, says: “This event will help empower parent organisations around the world. Some children need access to basic treatments and diagnosis, while for others the priority is emotional support, or help for long-term survivors.”

Eight-year-old Shannon Fenlon, from Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, was diagnosed and successfully treated for retinoblastoma when she was only one. Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer of the retina and Shannon now wears a false eye, which is replaced regularly as she grows.

Shannon, who attended the press conference, says: “I don’t really remember having cancer because I was only one. But my mummy says that I was very poorly and the doctors were very kind.”

Shannon adds: “If I’d been born in a poor country I might not have been so lucky. I wish that all the children in the world were as lucky as me.”

Cancer Research UK’s Chairman, Baroness Hayman, says: “International Childhood Cancer Day is an important opportunity to highlight the inequalities in access to treatments across the globe. By supporting the event, we can take the first step towards redressing that imbalance.”


  1. Each year there are approximately 166,000 children under 15 diagnosed with cancer worldwide. Eighty-four per cent of cases are diagnosed in the developing world. Each year there are at least 80,000 deaths from cancer in children under 15. Worldwide, 90 per cent of these deaths occur in the developing world.
  • Africa: 20% of cases; 25% of deaths
  • America: 16%; 12%
  • Asia: 54%; 55%
  • Europe: 9%; 7%
  • Australia: 1%; 1%

Mortality rates are highest in Northern and Eastern Africa.

International Childhood Cancer Day 2003 took place in the following countries:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela, Yugoslavia.