Statistics on most prevalent cancers in children

According to CHOC (Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa) cancers in children tend to be different from those found in adults. Cancer in children most often occurs in developing cells like bone marrow, blood, kidneys and nervous system tissues. Life-threatening blood disorders include aplastic anaemia, thalassaemia and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.

Top five cancers among South African children - NCR

According to South Africa’s National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2012 statistics these cancers are most prevalent in South African children:

Top five cancers in South African boys from 0 to 19 years of age

  • Leukaemia
  • Cancer of the kidney
  • Cancer of the brain and central nervous system
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Cancer of the eye

Top five cancers in South African girls from 0 to 19 years of age

  • Leukaemia
  • Cancer of the kidney
  • Cancer of connective tissue
  • Cancer of the brain and central nervous system
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Top five cancers in children - SACCSG

According to the most recent South African Children’s Cancer Study Group (SACCSG) registry statistics for 2009 to 2013 (referred to by CHOC), the five most common childhood cancers in South Africa are:

  • Leukaemia
  • Lymphoma (tumours that begin in the lymph glands)
  • Brain tumours
  • Cancer of the kidneys
  • Cancer of connective tissue

Even though the above are not split between boys and girls, we see the same cancers featuring in these statistics as we see in the statistics from NCR.

According to CHOC, leukaemia comprises 25.4% of all cancers, which is similar to rates in other countries. In developed countries, brain tumours make up another 25% whilst in South Africa statistics show that they only make up 13.4%. This discrepancy is thought to be due to under-diagnosis, especially in rural and smaller hospitals.

International statistics on cancer in children

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Leukaemia constitutes about one third of all childhood cancers. The other most common malignancies are lymphomas and tumours of the central nervous system.

There are also several tumour types that occur almost exclusively in children:

  • Neuroblastoma (cancer of the central nervous system)
  • Nephroblastoma (cancer of the kidneys)
  • Medulloblastoma (brain cancer)
  • Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye).

In high-income countries, approximately 80% of children with cancer survive after they have been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is much lower for children diagnosed with cancer in low- and middle-income countries, possibly due to:

  • Late diagnosis of cancer leading to lower levels of effective treatment
  • Poorly equipped hospitals without the appropriate medicine and equipment to treat the children
  • Other diseases that the children might have
  • Lack of knowledge about cancer among primary healthcare providers
  • Treatment that is unaffordable for many parents in low-resource settings who are required to pay for the costs themselves.