REVISITING THE SURGE OF CHILDHOOD CANCER -RIDWAN ADELAJA


Global decimation of children has become a matter of medical interest as the threat of childhood cancer presents a major challenge to paediatricians and oncologists. Worldwide, incidence of all types of pediatric cancers annually is aggregated to be 186.6 per 1 million of those up to age 19. The figure indicates a significant increase in the past three decades. World Health Organization (WHO) identifies cancer in children with numbers put approximately 300,000 children aged 0 to 19 years old being diagnosed with cancer annually.

More devastating and shocking is that annually about 90% of the 100,000 children with cancer in Sub-Sahara Africa does not live to survive due to lack of adequate medical infrastructure and ignorance by parents and communities. On the contrary elsewhere, developed economies encouraged the survival of approximately 80% of children with cancer and related ailments through enhanced healthcare services provided by the state and insurance services. Health practitioners in Nigeria and Africa by extension, today, cannot be more worried about their mandate as professionals saddled with the responsibility of ensuring a healthy life for the populace –young or aged.

While health workers continually struggle to orientate and raise the awareness of the public on how best to deal with cancer through various grassroots-campaigns and outreach programmes endorsed and embarked upon to this end, the erroneous belief that cancer (the second leading cause of death globally) is a disease for adults still lives. Hence, cancer cases in kids are not detected early enough –and as such, the worrisome annual increase in mortality rate is recorded.

CHILDHOOD CANCER IMAGE
A patient high fives Dr. Alan Anderson after a check-up following treatment for kidney cancer. Dr. Anderson is one of the pediatric oncologists from Texas ChildrenÕs Hospital who will help train the estimated 4,800 African healthcare professionals as part of the Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence) initiative. Photo credit: Barcode Media

CAUSES OF CHILDHOOD CANCER:

Although research is ongoing to determine actual causes of childhood cancer, however, some causes of reported cases have been traced to environmental factors such as radiation, unhealthy diet, poor hygiene, bad habits, as well as risky lifestyles such as overweight and zero-exercise.

In Nigeria, records from medical doctors and health agencies have established that late detection is the chief cause that accounts for poor survival of the country’s cancer victims. While there is equally the challenge of finance in arresting a financially-intensive-health complication as cancer, the implication of late detection has often frustrated the chances of victim’s survival.

World Health Organization supporting the above, in an article published on the subject, noted that “when childhood cancer is identified early, it is more likely to respond to effective treatment and result in a greater probability of survival with less suffering and often less expensive and less intensive treatment.”

Experts have however proposed that in reducing the rate of casualties annually lost to the deadly disease, government as a principal figure must intervene through the facilitation of supportive treatment plan and investment in healthcare infrastructure in Nigeria. This way, the usually high-cost treatment of the disease can be subsidized and cancer patients can be assisted to enjoy life without distress and brazen crisis.

Various press interviews with cancer children and parents have shown that the financial constrain that demeans effort when treating cancer hovers on the fact that bills are thrown solely on parents or families of cancer children. And, in a case whereby families struggle to support another –once available stipend is exhausted and they can no longer afford the medical bills, hope is lost and cancer is conclusively received as a death sentence.

CHILDHOOD CANCER PHOTO
Twenty-two-month-old Naudia Turner, who had a Wilms tumor surgically removed, tried on nearly 20 hats before settling on two of her favorites. When Mad Hatters Kathy Flickinger (left) and Marion Krulas showed up, their hats offered a fun diversion to one of NaudiaÕs biweekly trips to the hospital for chemotherapy treatments.

MANAGING AND TREATING CHILDHOOD CANCER:

From CNS cancer to Leukemia to Lymphoma to Kidney cancer, and to Neuroblastoma which covers 6% of cancer diagnosis in children; experts have revealed that there are correlating symptoms of abdominal pain, constipation, proptosis, periorbital ecchymoses, bladder dysfunction, hypertension, anemia, bone pain, fever, and general weight loss. Hence, parents and guardians are implored to follow up symptoms with immediate medical check-up and treatment.

With the understanding that cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents worldwide, WHO further explains that “the reasons for lower survival rates in LMICs include an inability to obtain an accurate diagnosis, inaccessible therapy, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity (side effects), and excess relapse, in part due to lack of access to essential medicines and technologies addressing each of these gaps improves survival and can be highly cost-effective.”

In winning the global war against the deadly disease, medical experts’ recommendations propose that the most reliable way to checkmate the notorious disease (that causes abnormal cells division uncontrollably and destroy body tissue) is to intensify efforts in combating it through early detection, prompt/proper diagnosis, government intervention, and for all to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

CONCLUSION:

Working with the vision of establishing a cancer-free society, World Health Organisation in a sensitization article on childhood cancer has enlisted a few key facts that are not only relevant but also worthy of emphasis.

Key Facts:

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents around the world and approximately 300,000 children aged 0 to 19 years old are diagnosed with cancer each year.
  • The most common categories of childhood cancers include leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and solid tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumour.
  • In high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer are cured, but in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) only about 20% are cured.
  • Childhood cancer generally cannot be prevented or screened.
  • Improving outcomes for children with cancer requires early and accurate diagnosis followed by effective treatment.
  • Most childhood cancers can be cured with generic medicines and other forms of treatments including surgery and radiotherapy. Treatment of childhood cancer can be cost-effective in all income settings.
  • Avoidable deaths from childhood cancers in LMICs result from lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, obstacles to accessing care, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity, and higher rates of relapse.
  • Childhood cancer data systems are needed to drive continuous improvements in the quality of care, and to drive policy decisions.

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Ridwan Adelaja
I write. I speak. I teach.

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