Background: Since 1980, the epidemiology of childhood cancer in Spain has been registered through the National Registry of Childhood Cancer. However, this registry does not include patients from Autonomous Community of Cantabria because there is no reporting clinical center. The absence of data on childhood cancer in this region justifies this study.
Objectives: To analyze the clinical presentation, diagnostic delay and incidence of childhood cancer in Cantabria.
Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of 89 children (aged 0-15 years) diagnosed with cancer in Cantabria from 1995-2000.
Results: The annual incidence of childhood cancer in the region was 198.1 cases per million inhabitants with a predominance of males (53.9 %) and children aged less than 5 years (46.1 %). The most frequent cancers were leukemia (32.6 %) and brain tumors (23.6 %). The most frequent signs and symptoms were fever (29.2 %) and decreased appetite or fatigue (19.1 %). The mean delay in diagnosis for all tumors was 5.99 weeks and delays were longest for brain tumors. There was a direct statistical relationship between non-specific clinical presentation and diagnostic delay. A total of 20.2 % of all patients received treatment outside Cantabria.
Conclusions: The incidence of all childhood cancers and especially that of neuroblastoma was higher in Cantabria than in other areas of Spain. In general, the major difficulties in the diagnosis of childhood cancer are its low incidence and non-specific presenting symptoms. Specialized pediatric oncology units near to patients' homes should be created to avoid problems due to treatment outside the area of residence.