Beware the signs of cancer in kids

By admin
04 June 2014

When you hear people talking about cancer you tend to assume they’re referring to adults. But children get cancer too and as International Cancer Survivors Day was just observed on 2 June, a campaign to raise awareness about the early warning signs of childhood cancer was launched. We speak to Mandie Erasmus from the Little Fighters Cancer Trust.

What’s the aim of this awareness campaign?

Erasmus explains the survivors’ day, apart from acting as a beacon of hope for those still fighting cancer, also kicks off the children’s cancer awareness campaign which will see her organisation visit more than 100 rural clinics and hospitals to deliver materials to institutions which don’t normally have the funds necessary for public education.

“Adult cancer awareness receives a lot more publicity and support,” says Erasmus. “The Little Fighters Cancer Trust works tirelessly to raise awareness surrounding childhood cancer – not only in September (which is International Childhood Cancer Awareness month) but every day of the year.”

What’s happening in SA?

According to the South African Paediatric Tumour Registry, less than a third of childhood cancer cases are diagnosed. Between 600 and 700 cases are diagnosed every year. And unfortunately the escalation rate of cancer has been predicted as 70 per cent by 2020.

“The grave concern is misdiagnosis which is why this campaign focuses on the education of the public as well as medical professionals,” says Erasmus. “Almost half of all diagnosed cases are diagnosed in the later stages of cancer development, which influences available treatment options, the time needed for treatment, the aggressiveness of the treatment, and also the physical and emotional trauma which the child experiences.”

What are the challenges in treating children’s cancer?

“The main challenge with the treatment of childhood cancer is that the majority of funding for research, which influences development of new treatments, goes to adult cancer,” says Erasmus. “This has a huge impact on the development of childhood cancer treatments by pharmaceutical companies. In South Africa some of the treatments which are available in countries like the United States, are not available here, and the cost for a family to take their child overseas for treatment, is simply not affordable for the majority of parents.”

Leukaemia is the most prevalent of the 12 types of childhood cancers and many children need bone-marrow transplants if they don’t respond to treatment. In South Africa however there’s about a one in 100 000 chance of finding a match and there are currently only 66 000 bone marrow donors registered. Many matches are found abroad but, again, the expense is tremendous.

What should parents look out for?

  • Continued, unexplained weight loss.
  • Headaches, often with early-morning vomiting.
  • Increased pain in bones, joints, back or legs.
  • Lumps of unexplained masses.
  • Development of excessive bleeding, bruising or rashes.
  • Constant infections.
  • A whitish colour behind pupils.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness.
  • Eye or vision changes which occur suddenly.
  • Recurring or persistent fevers.

A helping hand

Learn more about the 12 major types of childhood cancer and the Little Fighters Cancer Trust on its website. Alternatively you can send an email to or call 021-863-0249.

Organisations which would like to join Little Fighters in its fight against childhood cancer can call Mandie Erasmus on 073-729-6155 or send an email to

Go to The Sunflower Fund’s website for more information on childhood cancer and how to become a bone-marrow donor.

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