Research by the CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation found that more than 40 percent of South African children with cancer never reach a specialist treatment centre. Standing between children and a chance at life are often low levels of awareness and myths, according to the foundation.
Today marks International Childhood Cancer Day, which aims to raise awareness and battle misconceptions.
“A common myth identified from our work in communities is that children do not get cancer, and if they do, only white children will suffer from the disease,” said Francois Peenz, CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation chief executive officer.
About 1,000 children in South Africa will be diagnosed with cancer this year while globally 90,000 children, often from developing countries, will lose their lives to the illness.
Developing countries account for about 80 percent of all paediatric cancer cases however survival rates are low due to a lack of access to medicines and care.
“Most parents in these countries bring their children for consultation often at a very late stage and at this point, there are few treatment options available,” said Giorgio Perilongo, president of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology.
Christina Stefan, head of Paediatric Oncology at Cape Town’s Tygerberg Hospital, agreed that delayed diagnoses are a big problem. Children often show up for treatment at an advanced stage of the disease, making the cancer more difficult to treat.
“When diagnosed early childhood cancer is quite curable, however, patients often present with advanced…disease,” Stefan told Health-e.
With better access to care, about 80 percent of all childhood cancer patients diagnosed in richer, developed countries survive.
Childhood cancer is not preventable but here are some cancer warning signs parents should watch out for in order to ensure children are treated sooner rather than later:
- A white spot or spots in the eye, a new squint, blindness or bulging eyeball;
- Lumps in the stomach, head, neck, limbs, testes or glands;
- Unexplained fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding;
- Aching bones, joints, back and easy fractures;
- Change in behaviour, balance and gait, an enlarged head or persistent headaches;
- Generally, parents should seek medical attention for any persistent symptom.