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Semin Pediatr Surg. 2012 May;21(2):136-41. doi: 10.1053/j.sempedsurg.2012.01.006.

Challenge of pediatric oncology in Africa.

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  • 1Department of Paediatric Surgery, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.


The care of children with malignant solid tumors in sub-Saharan Africa is compromised by resource deficiencies that range from inadequate healthcare budgets and a paucity of appropriately trained personnel, to scarce laboratory facilities and inconsistent drug supplies. Patients face difficulties accessing healthcare, affording investigational and treatment protocols, and attending follow-up. Children routinely present with advanced local and metastatic disease and many children cannot be offered any effective treatment. Additionally, multiple comorbidities, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV when added to acute on chronic malnutrition, compound treatment-related toxicities. Survival rates are poor. Pediatric surgical oncology is not yet regarded as a health care priority by governments struggling to achieve their millennium goals. The patterns of childhood solid malignant tumors in Africa are discussed, and the difficulties encountered in their management are highlighted. Three pediatric surgeons from different regions of Africa reflect on their experiences and review the available literature. The overall incidence of pediatric solid malignant tumor is difficult to estimate in Africa because of lack of vital hospital statistics and national cancer registries in most of countries. The reported incidences vary between 5% and 15.5% of all malignant tumors. Throughout the continent, patterns of malignant disease vary with an obvious increase in the prevalence of Burkitt lymphoma (BL) and Kaposi sarcoma in response-increased prevalence of HIV disease. In northern Africa, the most common malignant tumor is leukemia, followed by brain tumors and nephroblastoma or neuroblastoma. In sub-Saharan countries, BL is the commonest tumor followed by nephroblastoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma. The overall 5-years survival varied between 5% (in Côte d'Ivoire before 2001) to 34% in Egypt and up to 70% in South Africa. In many reports, the survival rate of patients is not mentioned but is clearly very low in many sub-Saharan Africa countries (Sudan, Nigeria). Late presentation was observed for many tumors like nephroblastoma in Nigeria, 72% were stages III and IV or BL stages III and IV were observed in 40% and 30%, respectively. Africa bears a great burden of childhood cancer. Cancer is now curable in developed countries as survival rates approach 80%, but in Africa, >80% of children still die without access to adequate treatment. Sharpening the needlepoint of surgical expertise will, of itself, not compensate for the major infrastructural deficiencies, but must proceed in tandem with resource development and allow heath planners to realize that pediatric surgical oncology is a cost-effective service that can uplift regional services.

Copyright © 2012. Published by Elsevier Inc.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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