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Collection of cancer-specific data in population-based surveys in low- and middle-income countries: A review of the demographic and health surveys
Authors: Chukwudi A. Nnaji and Jennifer Moodley
Source: PLOS Global Public Health , Volume 3, Issue 9; DOI:
Topic(s): Alcohol consumption
Tobacco use
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: SEP 2023
Abstract: Population-based surveys, such as those conducted by the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Programme, can collect and disseminate the data needed to inform cancer control efforts in a standardised and comparable manner. This review examines the DHS questionnaires, with the aim of describing and analysing how cancer-specific questions have been asked from the inception of the surveys to date. A systematic search of the DHS database was conducted to identify cancer-specific questions asked in surveys. Descriptive statistics were used to summarise the cancer-specific questions across survey years and countries. In addition, the framing and scope of questions were appraised. A total of 341 DHS surveys (including standard, interim, continuous and special DHS surveys) have been conducted in 90 countries since 1985, 316 of which have been completed. A total of 39 (43.3%) of the countries have conducted at least one DHS survey with one or more cancer-specific questions. Of the 316 surveys with available final reports and questionnaires, 81 (25.6%) included at least one cancer-specific question; 54 (17.1%) included questions specific to cervical cancer, 41 (13.0%) asked questions about breast cancer, and 8 (2.5%) included questions related to prostate cancer. Questions related to other cancers (including colorectal, laryngeal, liver, lung, oral cavity, ovarian and non-site-specific cancers) were included in 40 (12.6%) of the surveys. Cancer screening-related questions were the most commonly asked. The majority of the surveys included questions on alcohol and tobacco use, which are known cancer risk factors. The frequency of cancer-specific questions has increased, though unsteadily, since inception of the DHS. Overall, the framing and scope of the cancer questions varied considerably across countries and survey years. To aid the collection of more useful population-level data to inform cancer-control priorities, it is imperative to improve the scope and content of cancer-specific questions in future DHS surveys.