Early detection and treatment can increase the chances of curing cancer, a leading cause of death in children over 1 year in many countries of the Americas.

Washington, D.C., 12 February 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — A new manual for healthcare providers, Early Diagnosis of Childhood Cancer, has been published by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) to improve early detection of childhood cancer and help reduce child mortality in the Americas.

"The purpose of this manual is to improve the knowledge of primary healthcare teams about the signs and symptoms of pediatric cancer and about treatment referrals, to ensure that all children benefit from early diagnosis and timely treatment," said Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO/WHO.

Cancer is among the leading causes of death in children over 1 in many countries of the Americas. In 2012, some 29,000 children under 15 were diagnosed with cancer in the region. Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, followed by tumors of the central nervous system and Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Pediatric cancer is not considered preventable, but early detection increases the chances it can be cured. In recent years, advances in treatment and new clinical protocols and guidelines have contributed to improved survival rates.

The most common type of cancer in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, once considered a fatal disease. Today its 5-year survival rate is over 70%.

The situation is different, however, for children in lower-income countries, where cancer survival rates are 10%-20% lower than in higher-income countries. Reasons for these poorer outcomes include late diagnosis, limited access to treatment, and disease recurrence.

The new PAHO/WHO manual tells health professionals how to identify suspicious signs and symptoms. It provides comprehensive information on the most common cancers in children and the main risk factors for cancer. It teaches how to assess the possibility of cancer and gives health providers information and tools to manage children with possible cancer or with signs indicating they require immediate medical attention. It also provides information on follow-up and post-treatment care at the primary care level for children diagnosed with cancer.

International Childhood Cancer Day is commemorated on February 15 each year to raise awareness of this issue and the need for all children to have access to proper diagnosis and treatment.

PAHO works with its Member States in the Americas to strengthen policies and programs for cancer prevention and control, including for childhood cancer. These include policies for tobacco control, reduction of harmful use of alcohol, and promotion of physical activity and healthy diets. PAHO/WHO also works with Member States to improve quality of and access to cancer screening programs, especially to improve early detection of breast and cervical cancers, and to improve cancer treatment and palliative care.

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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.

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