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Research to focus on health inequalities in childhood cancer

Author: Mary Ellen Breen
15 February 2016

New research examines health inequalities in childhood cancer

Dr Michal Molcho at the Department of Health Promotion, NUI Galway, in association with the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) is hoping to shine a light on the issue of health inequalities among childhood cancer survivors in Ireland.

Speaking on International Children’s Day, today, February 15th, Dr Molcho said, “This is the first time that a study in Ireland is looking at the issue of health inequalities in childhood cancer and whether social background or where you live has any bearing on how children with cancer fare.”

As part of the study Dr Molcho is analysing data, collected from the NCRI between 1994-2012, relating to children who have survived cancer and are now adults. More than 3,600 children were registered as having cancer between 1994 and 2012; with lymphoid leukaemia; Hodgkin's disease; brain tumour; and bone cancer being the most prevalent cancers among children.

“At present we do not know if children with cancer suffer because of health inequities in the system but that is what this study is hoping to find out,” Dr Molcho says.

As part of the study, the researchers are looking at what supportive care needs are available, the health-related quality of life of survivors, mental health issues, and socio-demographic questions, while also working with childhood cancer support groups, such as CanCare4Living.

So far the study has revealed differences in how boys and girls are treated for cancer in Ireland. Preliminary results suggest that boys received more treatment than girls but it is not yet clear why this might be the case and if it makes any difference.

“We found that boys and girls were not treated the same way; boys tended to receive more treatment than girls. For example when we looked at children with leukaemia we found that girls were less likely to receive radiotherapy than boys and in a number of other cancers girls were less likely to get surgery,” Dr Molcho explains.

“The data show that boys tended to receive more treatment but we cannot say whether that is an advantage or disadvantage as there was no difference in survivorship, with both boys and girls doing equally well,” she adds.

Dr Molcho says that the results were unexpected and warrant further investigation: “Why there is a gender difference is unclear. We don’t have the answers yet but these results should start a conversation. We don’t yet understand why there is a difference in how boys and girls are treated for cancer and the clinicians we have spoken to so far are equally puzzled by this trend”.

“We didn’t expect to see this gender difference which hasn’t been reported anywhere else. It was an unexpected finding and is something we will explore further,” Dr Molcho adds.

Dr Molocho’s research is being funded by the Irish Cancer Society.  For more information go to their website.

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