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India among top 6 countries with the largest childhood cancer burden: Lancet study

Study also finds that 90% of children in low- and middle-income countries are at the risk of developing cancer.

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New Delhi: India is among the top six countries facing the largest burden of childhood cancer, a study in the latest edition of The Lancet journal has found. 

According to the first Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) published in The Lancet Oncology, the other five are China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the United States.

“While four of the five countries with the highest childhood cancer burden were in Asia and Oceania — India, China, Pakistan, and Indonesia, the USA had the sixth-largest burden in 2017,” the study found after assessing childhood and adolescent cancer burden in 195 countries in 2017.   

The study quantifies cancer burden as the number of years of healthy life lost to ill-health and premature death. It found that in 2017, about 11.5 million years of healthy life was lost due to childhood cancer across the globe.

The study relied on a measurement known as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) to estimate the number of years of ‘healthy life’ that children and adolescents have lost due to a cancer-related illness, disability and premature death. It denoted one DALY equivalent to one year of healthy life lost.

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Cancers are killing children 

Childhood cancers at 11.5 million years of healthy life lost were the sixth biggest contributors to the total cancer burden worldwide in 2017, according to the study.

They were only lower than the burden from adult cancers of the lung (41 million), liver (21 million), stomach (19 million), colon (19 million), and breast (18 million).

Cancers of the blood were the main contributors among the total childhood cancer burden worldwide, followed by brain and nervous system cancers.

“By assessing the global burden of childhood cancer through the lens of disability-adjusted life-years, we can more comprehensively understand the devastating impact of cancer on children globally,” said Dr Lisa Force in the report. Force works with the US-based St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which led the research in collaboration with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Children in poorest countries at highest risk: Study 

While the number of new cancer cases in children and adolescents (aged 0-19 years) was relatively low at around 4.16 lakh globally in 2017, the study found that children in the poorest countries faced a disproportionately high cancer burden.

Poorest countries contribute over 82 per cent of the global childhood cancer burden — equivalent to almost 9.5 million years of healthy life lost in 2017, the study found. 

“Around 97 per cent of this global burden is related to premature death, with around 3 percent due to impaired quality of life,” the GBD study said.

Children with cancer in high-income countries also tend to have good survival, with around 80 per cent surviving five years after diagnosis, the study said. “But these improvements have not translated to most low and middle-income countries, where survival is approximately 35-40 per cent, but some estimates suggest it could be as 20 per cent,” the study said. “Around 90 per cent of children at risk of developing cancer live in low and middle-income countries.”

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