Childhood cancer on the increase in SA

2018-10-04 06:03
Being proactive about cancer can save lives. PHOTO: supplied

Being proactive about cancer can save lives. PHOTO: supplied

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SEPTEMBER is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, commemorated in African countries and globally.

Recent studies have shown that more than 1000 children in South Africa are being diagnosed with childhood cancer annually, this according to the Childhood Cancer Foundation SA.

Studies reveal that childhood and adolescent cancer is threatening to overtake infectious diseases as one of the highest causes of disease-related mortality in children.

Programme development manager at Childhood Cancer Foundation SA Adri Ludick said: “Despite being relatively rare, in high-income countries childhood cancer is the second most common cause of death in children aged five to 14 years, while in Africa it does not make it into the top 10 common causes of death.

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015 reported that the worldwide incidence of childhood cancer globally is increasing from 165 000 new cases annually to 215 000 cases for children 14 years and younger and 85 000 new cases for 15 to 19 year-olds,” Ludick said.

She said many more remain uncounted and unreported due to a lack of childhood cancer registries in a large number of countries.

“Internationally, 150 per million children are diagnosed with cancer annually. South African Children’s Tumour Registry (SACTR) reported about 1 000 new cases a year for children under the age of 16.

“Survival rates in high-income countries reach an average of 84% and are steadily improving even in less-resourced areas of the world where there are integrated programmes,” Ludick said.

She said the survival rate from cancer in children in South Africa is around 55% and that seems to be on the rise as well.

In IARC’s latest report they indicated that SACTR reported 1033 new cases during 2017. The recent reports also revealed that childhood cancer sometimes goes undiagnosed and untreated because people do not have access to the specialised medical services they need.

“This is especially true in rural areas or in very poor communities, where people do not have the means to seek medical help or where specialised treatment units are not available.

“The lack of awareness of childhood cancer is another reason.

“Many parents do not recognise the early warning signs and symptoms.

“Doctors sometimes lack knowledge because childhood cancer is a rare disease and few family physicians (GPs) or African traditional practitioners see any cases in their practices,” Ludick said.

She said making the public, doctors, medical personnel, and traditional healers more aware of childhood cancer and its early warning signs and symptoms is one of the aims of their organisation.

According to the foundation, cancer begins when a particular cell or group of cells in the body begin to multiply and grow without control.

Ludick added: “The cancerous cells stop working properly and, as their numbers increase, they form a lump or tumour. Eventually, the normal cells will be crowded out and the cancerous cells, if not treated, will take over. When cancer cells break away and spread to other parts of the body they may produce secondary tumours known as metastases. Sometimes the cancer will affect the blood, causing leukaemia; other cancerous cells form tumours.”

When these tumours form in bone or muscles, they are known as sarcomas.

Cancers that affect the lymphoid organs such as the lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus are known as lymphomas.

Childhood cancer needs to be treated by a paediatric oncologist in a specialised paediatric oncology unit as childhood cancers are quite different from cancers affecting adults.

They tend to occur in different parts of the body, look different under the microscope, and respond differently to treatment.

Cure rates for most childhood cancers are much higher than those for most adult cancers.

Today, in developing countries, the majority of childhood cancers can be treated very effectively and between 50-55% can now be cured.

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