Every three minutes, a child dies of cancer: what can be done

Cancer is the leading cause of death for children. 80% of children with cancer survive in high-income countries, only 20% in low- and middle-income countries.
15 February 2021

This 15th February marks International Childhood Cancer Day, an opportunity to emphasise that better survival is achievable and that cost-effective treatment can exist in all income settings.

The first global awareness campaign for International Childhood Cancer Day was launched in 2001 by Childhood Cancer International (CCI). This year marks the 20th anniversary and the launch of a three-year global collaborative campaign around the theme #throughourhands (2021), #throughyourhands (2022), #throughtheirhands (2023).

The theme in 2021 pays tribute to children and adolescents living with cancer, their bravery, their courage and their resilience. It also recognises the mark that children’s lives have on the world and how they help shape a shared future.

“Cancer makes us Stronger. It's an opportunity to change in ourselves towards bravery, finding purpose in life, values and life ethics.”
–    Saurabh, India, aged 19, diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma at 16; from the ICCD campaign toolkit.

Each year, approximately 400,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed worldwide among children and adolescents aged 0 to 19, and it is the leading cause of death in this population. Yet 80% of children with cancer survive in high-income countries, a rate that could be even higher with greater therapeutic innovation. 

In low- and middle-income countries, the survival rate drops dramatically to 20%. Many of these deaths are avoidable and are due to a lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, as well as limited access to care, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity and higher rates of recurrence. 

According to CCI, most childhood cancer can be cured with a combination of chemotherapies and other treatments including surgery and radiotherapy, and treatment can be made cost-effective in all country-income settings. 

“Cancer is curable if you find how to fight it with hope. This is advice from the one who faced death but never lost his heart.”
–    Omid, Iran, aged 15, diagnosed with histiocytosis cancer at 8; from the ICCD campaign toolkit.

The International Childhood Cancer Day campaign draws on the universal image of colourful children handprints, forming a “tree of life” whose roots represent the key elements for ‘Better Survival’. These include responsive government policy, multidisciplinary care, family support, qualified workforce, cancer patient registries, available and affordable essential medicines, rehabilitation and reintegration.

"Childhood cancer affects children of any age, any background, any belief. While it is a shocking diagnosis for any family to endure, the number of children these days who cannot be cured with current treatment regimens is growing thankfully ever smaller. However, just because it is possible to cure most children with cancer does not mean this happens. If the child cannot access adequate specialist care they will simply not survive. Tumaini la Maisha/Their Lives Matter (TLM) is fighting to change this wholly unacceptable paradigm. We are driven every day by the passionate belief that two children with the same disease, but in different locations, must have access to the same treatment and the same happy outcomes. Their Lives Matter!"
Dr Trish Scanlan, Paediatric Oncologist, MNH/Director, We Are TLM, Tanzania

Last update: 
Tuesday 8 June 2021