Spectrum and presentation of pediatric malignancies in the HIV era: Experience from Blantyre, Malawi, 1998–2003




Data on childhood cancers in Africa are sparse, particularly since the spread of HIV. We aimed to document the frequency of pediatric cancers presenting to a large central hospital in Malawi, detailing the presenting features, initial investigations, and HIV status of these children.


A retrospective audit of the spectrum and clinical presentation of cancers among children (<16 years) seen at Queen Elizabeth's Central Hospital (QECH), between 1998 and 2003.


Seven hundred seven children with cancer were seen, the number of cases per year increased over the time period; 50% (351) had Burkitt lymphoma, 13% (89) had retinoblastoma, and 9% (61) had Kaposi sarcoma, with a variety of other tumors comprising the remainder. Kaposi sarcoma markedly increased in frequency over time. Histological verification of diagnosis was available for 49% (348). The proportion of children with cancer who were tested for HIV increased over time, but varied by cancer type. Amongst those tested, the seroprevalence was 93% (52/56) for children with Kaposi sarcoma, 4% (11/289) for those with Burkitt lymphoma, 31% (8/26) for those with other non-Hodgkin lymphomas, 7% (1/15) for those with Hodgkin disease, and 5% (5/103) for those with other cancers.


The number of cases seen per year has increased over the study period for almost all cancers, but in particular for Kaposi sarcoma. Burkitt lymphoma remains the commonest pediatric tumor in Malawi. In the case of Burkitt lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma there is a significant difference in the presentation of HIV-seropositive and -seronegative children. Pediatr Blood Cancer 2007;48:515–520. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.