Report reveals that up to 50% of childhood cancers go undiagnosed world-wide
Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
I read a report the other day that broke my heart. It seems that globally, up to half of all childhood cancers go undiagnosed. It took a few for me to fully wrap my brain around this one. Half of all childhood cancers. Undiagnosed. Untreated. The loss of precious children that could have been prevented. The heartache of the parents that don’t know what happened to their baby. I want to take some time today to talk with you about this study and its implications, and what is being done to help alleviate this shocking statistic.
Undiagnosed and untreated
Here in the United States, and in other so-called “developed” areas of the world such as Western Europe, Canada, China, and Japan (definitions of “developed vs. developing vary) our children generally have good access to quality healthcare. When one of our littles feels bad, we can get them in to see a physician in a decent amount of time. This is reflected in the estimate that only 3% of childhood cancers are estimated to go undiagnosed in the US and Western Europe. We have the resources to help our kiddos and we use them.
Sadly, this isn’t the case in a large part of the world. According to a new study released last month, an estimated 57% of childhood cancers go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in Western Africa. These estimates are based on a new modeling approach taken by the research team. You see, many countries have excellent disease monitoring and databases from where scientists can extract data; however, many poorer nations simply do not have the resources to compile this data. The reasons for this are wide ranging – lack of funds, lack of reporting, and incorrect diagnoses to name a few. By utilizing well-developed databases and registries, the researchers were able to estimate the numbers of cancers in countries that have not (or could not) reported such information.
What this brings to light
Any parent can tell you, seeing your child hurt is worse that your own pain. Last month, my oldest was sick for days, with no answer as to what was wrong. His blood work was concerning enough that the doc we saw had us get him to the emergency room. I dropped everything and ran. Thanks to God, it was nothing more than a rare form of strep that was showing weird symptoms, but the point here is – we had the resources available to us to get him there. We had physicians concerned enough to run bloodwork when the rapid strep and rapid flu tests came back negative. We had access to a vehicle to make the run to the ER. We had an ER that was able to see him, with amazing diagnostic equipment available to rule out really nasty things. We are truly blessed.
In so much of the world though, this isn’t the case. When a child is sick, the means aren’t available to take them in for medical care – perhaps there isn’t a way to get to a clinic, or the clinic is too over-crowded, or there isn’t even a clinic. Regardless the cause, the effect is sadly the same in so many cases: a child goes undiagnosed with any one of countless diseases.
This sadness goes even further, in the developed parts of the world, when a person passes for unknown reasons, an autopsy is usually ordered so we can know what happened. Again, in these developing areas, this isn’t as likely to happen – regardless of age.
This lack of reporting presents problems for policy makers on the world stage. When groups such as the UN, or UNICEF, or the World Health Organization look at disease numbers worldwide, they can’t get an accurate picture of where resources need to go in order to properly address these issues.
The Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer
The authors of the study I mentioned said that “barriers to access and referral in health systems result in substantial under-diagnosis of childhood cancer in many countries…(and) By strengthening health systems more widely, well-functioning healthcare delivery networks could develop, reducing the number of undiagnosed children with cancer.”
Awareness of this disparity in diagnoses is key. With this knowledge, groups like the World Health Organization are fighting to bring more reliable healthcare to children in these underserved areas. The WHO has launched The Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer with the aim of decreasing childhood cancer deaths by 60% by the year 2030. With increasing awareness and availability of healthcare, this goal is not farfetched.
Here at Cancer Horizons, we know that many of our friends have been hit by the financial burden of cancer. If you are unable to help groups such as The Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer monetarily – please know that you can help with awareness! Share this information with your friends and loved ones about this tragic disparity in diagnoses.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!