More than 11 million healthy childhood life years are lost to treatment-related ill-health and disability and fatal cancer, according to the GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE STUDY (GBD) published on 29 July in the Lancet Oncology. Childhood cancer, in particular, is a major contributor (among the top 4) to the global disease burden. Moreover, the study reveals massive inequities in childhood cancer burden between high and low-income countries.
The findings are based on so-called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a measure where one DALY is equivalent to one year of healthy life lost.
The findings are an important first step in establishing the role of childhood or paediatric cancer in frameworks addressing global oncology and global child health, says lead author Dr. Lisa Force.
Countries with the highest childhood cancer burden were in Asia and Oceania, followed by the US. However, the biggest DALY burden for paediatric cancer types was in sub-Saharan Africa.
The study also showed the burden is disproportionally high in the poorest of nations, which account for over 82 per cent of the global childhood cancer burden, equating to around 9.5 million years of healthy life lost in 2017. Whereas survival rates for paediatric cancers are much higher in high-income countries (around 80%) sadly the same healthcare improvements have not yet reached low - and middle - income countries, where survival rates are as low as 20%.
Furthermore, the authors suggest the new data are crucial for effective resource planning and prioritising health policies. This could potentially prevent the unnecessary loss of childhood life years by ensuring early diagnosis and treatment of cancers as well as other devastating diseases.
However, high-quality paediatric cancer data is still lacking, particularly in developing countries. Therefore, improved reporting systems and indeed, big data approaches will be crucial for significantly reducing the global burden of childhood cancer.