Childhood cancer is considered a modern day “miracle” by health circles. More than 70% of childhood cancer is now curable with modern therapy. Overall, this is an impressive increase since the mid-1970s, when the 5-year survival rate was approximately 60%. Still, survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer and factors such as the status of a country’s health system infrastructure, medical culture and socioeconomic conditions. In LMIC, where access to health care is limited and very challenging, survival rates are as low as 10-20% meaning that only 1-2 children out of 10 who are diagnosed with cancer and receive treatment will survive. Conversely, in HIC, survival rates can be as high as 80 – 90%, meaning that only one or two children diagnosed and treated for cancer will die.
The reasons for this significant inequity are: lack of information about early signs and symptoms of childhood cancer, late diagnosis, misdiagnosis, absence /weak referral systems, difficult access to care and treatment, catastrophic costs of treatment and medicines, weak health care systems and abandonment (i.e. discontinuance of treatment).
“Researches revealed that treatment abandonment may account for a third of the survival gap between HIC and LMIC. Treatment abandonment is disproportionately higher in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).“
In some cases, the survival difference is over 50%, even among children/adolescents with cancer in neighboring countries on the same continent. For example, in Europe, Central and Eastern European countries have significantly poorer cancer survival rates (i.e. higher mortality) than the EU 15. Cancer illiteracy among the general population, lack of prevention and screening efforts, and limited health care resources are all seen as contributing factors to this gap.