Chennai: India has reported an increase in the incidence of paediatric cancer in the past decade with around 50,000 cases every year. Though paediatric cancer accounts for 5 percent of all cancers, the survival rate in paediatrics is around 60-70 percent. However, lack of awareness of a potential cure, incomplete treatment and late diagnosis remains a major challenge in the paediatric cancer care, say, oncologists.
Medicos at The Cancer Institute organised a seminar on- Paediatric Cancer Curable if Detected Early, to emphasise on the need to diagnose cancer early as a majority of paediatric cancers are curable.
As per the latest NCRP report on childhood cancer incidence in India, metropolitan cities had an average incidence rate of 129.5 cases per 10-lakh children for paediatric cancer, while major towns had a lower incidence of 86.7 cases per 10-lakh children. The incidence further decreases in predominantly rural areas with a 64.6 average incidence rate.
“The statistics highlight that under-diagnosis, incomplete registration in less developed cities and lack of tertiary care is why paediatric cancer cases remain unreported in less developed or smaller cities. Though the exact cause of paediatric cancer is still unknown, a small portion of them is due to genetic factors and exposure to harmful substances such as radiation,” said Dr Swaminathan, head of Biostatistics and epidemiology department, Cancer Institute.
Children who complete cancer treatment of comprehensive cancer patients, survival approaches that in developed countries, which is around 85-90 percent on an average. However, incomplete treatment for childhood cancers is a major problem in India.
While the overall 5-year absolute survival percent is around 40.3 percent in paediatric, those receiving complete treatment at a private hospital have an average 5-year absolute survival percentage of 54.3 percent, which reduces to 40.1 in government hospitals.
Though there are various schemes for providing free treatment for cancer patients, economic constraints in living conditions affected the completion of treatment more than the cost of hospitalisation and treatment itself. Paediatric cancer survivors can lead a normal life as a paediatric cancer is curable, added Dr Swaminathan. The paediatrics are more responsive to chemotherapy and have a better survival rate, but the rarity of drugs and long-term toxicity of treatment increases the burden of paediatric cancer cases in the country.
“The burden of paediatric cancer is higher in developing countries, when compared to developing countries, mostly due to late presentation, incorrect diagnosis, inadequate or no treatment, high toxic cost, loss to follow-up, low survival rates, no research and limited or no palliative care,” says Dr Venkataraman Radhakrishnan, associate professor, department of medical and paediatric oncology, Cancer Institute.
The success rate is better in developed countries due to cooperative groups, clinical trials, protocol-based treatment and better funding and research facilities, he added.