Early Detection of Childhood Cancer Can Help Save Children’s Lives
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is recognized every September by cancer organisations around the world. It reminds us that every two minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer and that nearly 300,000 kids worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year.
According to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre’s Collective Cancer Registry Report from 1994 to 2018, nearly 10% of all cancerous tumours treated at SKMCH&RC facilities were found in children. Some of the top malignancies diagnosed in children were cancers of the blood, lymphatic system, bone, eye, soft tissue, kidney, and brain.
Challenges in Pakistan
Belonging to a remote village in Kohistan, KPK, Sher Zaman recounts how lack of awareness about cancer symptoms coupled with absence of proper healthcare centres in his locality resulted in a delayed cancer diagnosis for his four-year old son:
“As far back as four months before his diagnosis, Hassan had started showing unusual symptoms, suffering from chronic fever week-in and week-out along with smouldering pain in his hands and legs. However, we were repeatedly turned away from our area’s local healer, despite becoming desperately concerned about Hassan’s deteriorating health. We were continually told that it was just a virus and to wait it out, we took his word for it.
The day I discovered a massive swelling in one of Hassan’s arms, panic struck and I decided to take him all the way to a hospital in Swat, where the doctors suspected that Hassan had leukaemia (blood cancer). The suspicion was soon confirmed when we received the report of his bone marrow biopsy. We rushed to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), Peshawar for treatment.
Looking back at photos, Hassan looked so alarmingly ill, it seems almost impossible not to recognise that something was terribly wrong with him back then.”
Sadly, this is all too common as so many parents of children with cancer share stories of delayed diagnosis. There are certain socio-cultural reasons as well behind delayed cancer diagnosis in Pakistan. Parents sometimes decide to rely on alternative medicine or methods of healing such as homeopathy or spiritual healing. Sometimes parents ignore symptoms altogether hoping their child will get better with time. When they finally bring the child to a hospital, cancer has already spread to different parts of the body, thus minimising the kid’s chances of survival.
However, much to Sher Zaman’s relief, today his son is fighting cancer at SKMCH&RC with exemplary determination.
Early Symptoms of Childhood Cancer
Parents need to know when to seek help by becoming aware of the early symptoms of cancer in children. As parents, you are most likely to detect if something is amiss and ensure that your child timely goes to a doctor. Early diagnosis is critical in ensuring effective treatment. Following are some of the most common symptoms associated with childhood cancer:
- Frequent infections
- Chronic fever
- Easy bruising
- Bleeding that is hard to stop
- Flat, dark-red skin spots due to bleeding under the skin
- Pain in the bones or joints
- Lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
- Pain or fullness below the ribs
- Weakness, fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
If you observe your child having any of the aforementioned symptoms, do not wait and take them to your nearest hospital for timely detection and beginning of treatment right away.
Childhood Cancer Treatment at SKMCH&RC
In case of cancer diagnosis, parents should expect that their child might need chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. In addition to clinical services, children require special care to maintain their physical and emotional health. At Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, our team of doctors, nurses and supportive services work together to provide the best possible care for children with cancer. We educate their families that children with cancer deserve all the love and care just like other children. Moreover, we actively help these children for life after cancer so that they can assimilate back into their schools and society after they defeat cancer. Learn more about our paediatric oncology services