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Appropriate cancer care is a human right and not a privilege

In Celebration of the International Childhood Cancer Day

15th February 2019

Irene* is just 5 years old. At such a careless age, Irene has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. The bad news: Brain tumor. The good news: Her chances for cure − as she had immediate access to high-quality interdisciplinary cancer treatment − are excellent. Before the mood of our story becomes more emotional as it should be, we have to clarify that Irene is not a cancer hero. She is just one of more than 300,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year around the world.

About Childhood Cancer

Childhood cancer is not one disease – there are more than 12 major types of pediatric cancers and over 100 subtypes.

Currently, 8 out of every 10 children diagnosed with cancer can be cured.

For some types, like lymphomas, germ cell tumors, retinoblastoma, Wilms tumor and acute lymphocytic leukemia, cure rates are even higher than 90%.

Childhood cancer generally cannot be prevented or screened, but it can be cured with affordable generic medicines and interdisciplinary care including surgery and radiotherapy.

Who dies of cancer?

The sad fact is that 85% of pediatric cancer cases occur in developing countries that use less than 5% of world resources.

Most of the children with cancer living in these countries cannot profit from the advances in modern pediatric oncology. The reason is the lack of essential drugs and appropriate health care infrastructure.

As a result, 8 out of 10 of these children will die within 5 years after cancer diagnosis.

High cure rates but also high long-term mortality

Cancer in children and young people, in general, is a major public health issue in developed countries, as well.

Although current treatment in childhood cancer is highly effective, it also can produce long-term side effects, such as decrease in growth, hormonal deficiencies, liver- and heart disease, intellectual deficits and secondary cancers later in life.

On average, only 17% of children in these countries die within 5 years after cancer diagnosis.

Among those children that survive five years after diagnosis:

− 18% will die within 30 years of diagnosis

− More than 95% of childhood cancer survivors will have a significant health-related issue by the time they are 45 years of age.

These health-related issues are usually due to side effects of previous cancer treatment.

What can be done?

There is a need for much greater investment of public resources in developing more effective and less toxic therapies in childhood cancers.

Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been licensed for use in children with cancer –compared with hundreds of drugs that have been developed specifically for adults only.

For many of the childhood cancers, the same treatments that existed in the 1970’s continue with few, if any, changes.

For 2015, the US-National Cancer Institute budget was $4.93 billion and childhood cancer received only 4% of that sum.

Prostate cancer (patient average age at diagnosis: 66 years), receives more research funding from NCI than all childhood cancers combined (patient average age at diagnosis: 8 years).

Inequities across Europe

In 2020, there will be nearly half a million childhood cancer survivors in Europe.

Young cancer survivors who live in countries affected by the economic crisis and the resulting mass migration of health care professionals to the wealthier countries face much more devastating issues than all these mentioned above.

Some of them:

- Social life interruption, family issues, social prejudice, and discrimination

- Limited access to basic health care and high-risk of household bankruptcy when seeking specialist treatment abroad.

It is time for the European policy makers to address all these inequities, increase public funding in order to introduce safe and effective treatments for children and young cancer patients and enable equal access to high-quality cancer care across Europe.

Appropriate cancer care is a human right and not a privilege.

* The Name was as a matter of course changed. Photos & story has been published after getting parents´permission

written by Dr. med. Thanasis Bagatzounis

Radiation Oncologist

edited by Johanna Panagiotou, geb. Mamali, M.A.

Communication Expert



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