Background: Cancer is a rapidly increasing problem in developing countries. Access, quality and efficiency of cancer services in developing countries must be understood to advance effective cancer control programs. Health services research can provide insights into these areas.
Discussion: This article provides an overview of oncology health services in developing countries. We use selected examples from peer-reviewed literature in health services research and relevant publicly available documents. In spite of significant limitations in the available data, it is clear there are substantial barriers to access to cancer control in developing countries. This includes prevention, early detection, diagnosis/treatment and palliation. There are also substantial limitations in the quality of cancer control and a great need to improve economic efficiency. We describe how the application of health data may assist in optimizing (1) Structure: strengthening planning, collaboration, transparency, research development, education and capacity building. (2) PROCESS: enabling follow-up, knowledge translation, patient safety and quality assurance. (3) OUTCOME: facilitating evaluation, monitoring and improvement of national cancer control efforts. There is currently limited data and capacity to use this data in developing countries for these purposes.
Summary: There is an urgent need to improve health services for cancer control in developing countries. Current resources and much-needed investments must be optimally managed. To achieve this, we would recommend investment in four key priorities: (1) Capacity building in oncology health services research, policy and planning relevant to developing countries. (2) Development of high-quality health data sources. (3) More oncology-related economic evaluations in developing countries. (4) Exploration of high-quality models of cancer control in developing countries. Meeting these needs will require national, regional and international collaboration as well as political leadership. Horizontal integration with programs for other diseases will be important.