(CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging improved diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), which it describes as one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents in the Americas.
According to a survey of paediatric oncologists in 20 countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, childhood cancer care services were severely disrupted when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started.
PAHO said that cancer patients are at increased risk of developing the most severe and life-threatening forms of COVID-19 and that fortunately, these services are being resumed in most countries in the region.
To provide an overview of the childhood cancer situation that could inform decision-making, PAHO has since published both subregional profiles and 25 country profiles for Latin America and the Caribbean, saying that they illustrate the burden of disease, current survival rates and the capacity of the health system to improve them.
Every year, around 280,000 children, between the ages of zero and 19, are diagnosed with cancer globally, according to GLOBOCAN 2020, the database of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is estimated that there are at least 29,000 children diagnosed, and about 10,000 will die, although most of these deaths could be avoided.
“A diagnosis of childhood cancer no longer has to be a death sentence,” said Dr Anselm Hennis, PAHO’s Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
“Science has made great strides in recent years, and early and appropriate diagnostic and treatment methods can save lives, but we need them to reach all those who need them, and many are being left behind.”
PAHO said childhood cancer includes various types of tumours, with the most common being leukaemia, brain cancer, lymphoma and solid tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms’ tumour, a rare kidney cancer that affects children.
“Preventable deaths due to childhood cancers occur because of failure to diagnose, incorrect or late diagnosis, and difficulties in accessing care or abandonment of treatment, among others,” said PAHO, stating that it launched a virtual course on early diagnosis of cancer in children and adolescents this month to improve the competencies and skills of primary care personnel, “so that they can detect early and diagnose childhood cancer in a timely manner”.
To achieve at least a 60 per cent survival rate worldwide for children with cancer by 2030, WHO is carrying out the CureAll initiative, which in the region is implemented by PAHO under the name CureAll Americas. Globally, the cure rate is 30 per cent, PAHO said.
It said 12 countries, including Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Panama and Paraguay, are currently participating in CureAll Americas.
PAHO said these countries are developing or strengthening their national childhood cancer plans, and expanding access to diagnostic and treatment services.