SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
versión On-line ISSN 2078-5135
versión impresa ISSN 0256-9574
INTRODUCTION: Childhood cancer is relatively rare, but there is a very good chance of cure. While overall survival rates of >70% are reported from developed countries, survival is much less likely in developing countries and unknown in many countries in Africa. OBJECTIVE: To analyse survival rates of childhood cancers in two South African paediatric oncology units. METHODS: This retrospective review included all children (0 - 15 years) admitted with a malignancy at two paediatric oncology units (Universitas Hospital Academic Complex in Bloemfontein, Free State, and Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, Western Cape) between 1987 and 2011. The protocols used in the units were similar, and all the diagnoses were confirmed histologically. RESULTS: There were 3 241 children, 53.5% of whom were males. Median follow-up was 17 months. The most common cancers were leukaemia (25.0%), brain tumours (19.5%), lymphoma (13.0%) and nephroblastoma (10.0%). The prevalences of neuroblastoma and retinoblastoma were similar at 5.8% and 5.7%, respectively. Overall survival was calculated to be 52.1%. Lymphoma and nephroblastoma had the highest survival rates at 63.9% and 62.6%, respectively. Brain tumours had the lowest survival rate at 46.4%. A comparison between ethnic groups showed white children to have the highest survival rate (62.8%); the rate for children of mixed racial origin was 53.8% and that for black children 48.5%. CONCLUSIONS: Overall survival rates for children admitted to two paediatric cancer units in South Africa were lower than data published from developed countries, because many children presented with advanced disease. New strategies to improve cancer awareness are urgently required.