An investigation has been undertaken of 479 deaths occurring up to the end of 1990 among 883 patients diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from 1974 to 1985 who were included in the population based National Registry of Childhood Tumours. The objectives were to perform a descriptive analysis looking particularly at the deaths not directly due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, to determine the frequency of the different causes of death and to study the trends over time. Among the 476 patients with sufficient information for the cause of death to be established, these were: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, 377 (79%); treatment related (other than second primary tumour), 86 (18%); second primary tumour, 10 (2%); and other, three (1%). The proportion of all deaths not directly due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma increased from 15% for those diagnosed during 1974-6 to 32% for those diagnosed during 1983-5. Among the 86 treatment related deaths, the more precise causes were bacterial infections, 26 (30%); viral and other infection, 14 (16%); metabolic, 19 (22%); renal, eight (9%); anaesthetic related, seven (8%); respiratory, four (5%); cardiac, three (3%); graft versus host disease, three (3%); and other, two (2%). Treatment related deaths from infection accounted for 27 (6%) of all patients diagnosed in 1974-9, and 13 (3%) in 1980-5. Treatment related deaths not due to infection occurred in 23 (5%) of those diagnosed in 1974-9 and 23 (6%) in 1980-5. Five treatment related deaths, including four anaesthetic related deaths, were identified as avoidable. Some of the deaths from metabolic and renal disease may also have been avoidable. Only 11 deaths have been recorded more than five years after diagnosis, six being due to second primary tumours. As follow up is relatively short for patients diagnosed more recently, further deaths from second malignancies and treatment related cardiovascular problems may well occur. A substantial number of children with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma die to treatment related causes. Deaths from infection have decreased in line with the overall improvement in survival rates. Other treatment related mortality has remained constant. Further improvements in survival for childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphoma will depend on maintaining the fine balance between the therapeutic value of intensive treatment and its potential harmful effects.
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