Purpose: The histology of brain tumors determines treatment and predicts outcome. Population-based survival reflects the effectiveness of a health care system in managing cancer. No systematic review of worldwide variation and time trends in survival from brain tumors in children is currently available.
Patients and methods: We considered longitudinal, observational studies comprising children diagnosed with intracranial astrocytic or embryonal tumors. We searched six electronic databases from database inception to September 30, 2018, using complex search strategies. The outcome measure was 5-year survival, estimated through a time-to-event analysis. This study is registered with PROSPERO, number CRD42018111981.
Results: Among 5,244 studies, we identified 47 eligible articles that provided 228 survival estimates. Only five studies were entirely or partially conducted in low-income or middle-income countries. Five-year survival from embryonal tumors increased from 37% in 1980 to approximately 60% in 2009. Although survival for medulloblastoma improved substantially (from 29% to 73% during 1959-2009), survival for primitive neuroectodermal tumors wavered over time (1973-2009) and between countries. Five-year survival from astrocytoma changed very little over the 27 years between 1982 and 2009 (from 78% to 89%). Interpretation of the literature was made difficult by the heterogeneity of study designs.
Conclusion: Survival has improved for embryonal tumors, but little change has been observed for astrocytic tumors. We found a striking gap in knowledge about survival from childhood brain tumor subtypes in middle-income and low-income countries, where half of these tumors are diagnosed. Larger studies are needed, including in under-represented countries and based on standardized data collection, to provide up-to-date survival estimates.