International Childhood Cancer Day 2021
The International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) is celebrated on the 15th of February every year. It was conceived in 2001 by the Childhood Cancer International (CCI), making 2021 the 20th edition of ICCD. For 2021, the theme is “Better Survival is Achievable #ThroughOurHands”. The Focus this year is on giving tribute to children fighting cancer and to recognise their mark on our shared future.
About Childhood Cancers
Cancer in children is different from cancer in adults because the origin of childhood cancer is generally unknown, unrelated to lifestyle and in majority cannot be screened. However, we can still take action towards better survival for these children.
Avoidable deaths from childhood cancer in low and middle-income countries, such as Pakistan, result from lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, abandonment of treatment, and obstacles to accessing care. At Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), we recognise these challenges and provide access to care based on the twin principles of quality and equality for children fighting cancer, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
Common Childhood Cancers in Pakistan
The most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is also the most common cancer seen at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre since 1994 and accounts for about 20 percent of all cancers in children reported at our facilities. Similar trend is also noted in the Punjab Cancer Registry Report, a population based cancer registry. Among the other common childhood cancers include brain tumor, lymphomas, bone cancer, eye cancer , soft tissues cancer and kidney cancer.
It is important to always see a doctor if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms in your child. Cancer symptoms can often be similar to other common childhood illnesses which increase the chances of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. As a parent, you can play a critical role in early diagnosis and some of the common symptoms that should prompt you to see a doctor are listed below:
- frequent or unexplained bruising or a rash of small red or purple spots that can’t be explained
- unusual paleness
- feeling tired all the time
- frequent infections or flu-like symptoms
- unexplained vomiting
- unexplained fever
- Inability to urinate or have blood in urine
- an unexplained lump, firmness or swelling anywhere in the body
- abdominal pain or swelling that doesn’t go away
- back or bony pain that doesn’t go away
- unexplained seizures (fits) or changes in your child’s behaviour and mood
- headaches that don’t go away
- feeling short of breath
- changes in the appearance of the eye or unusual eye reflections in photos
Our Expertise in Paediatric Oncology
A child with cancer needs very special attention and we offer multi-disciplinary care to childhood cancer patients and survivors. At our hospitals in Lahore and in Peshawar, our team of doctors, nurses and supportive services strive to provide the best possible care for children with cancer. The aim is not only to provide cancer treatment but also to improve the quality of life for those receiving treatment.
SKMCH&RC, Lahore is among few hospitals in the country to offer autologous bone marrow transplant treatment for lymphoma and solid tumours. This service has regularly reported excellent results since its inception in 2009. Allogeneic-Bone marrow transplant was initiated in 2019 in Malignant Haematology.
We offer continuing follow up through a formal long-term follow up clinic where children, who are long-term survivors of cancer, receive consultation to monitor the late toxicities of cancer treatment and to offer support to these individuals in life after cancer.
On average, we see around 500 paediatric cancer patients every year and have treated nearly 10,000 children with cancer since inception of the first SKMCH&RC. We are proud that our stage-wise survival rates are comparable to international hospitals in the high-income countries.
Children with cancer often have to fight stigmas due to lack of public awareness. All of us can play a role in debunking common myths about childhood cancer patients and survivors by educating ourselves and by propagating authentic information.
A common myth stems from a misconception that cancer is a contagion. Cancer is not contagious. It is safe to play with children with cancer and offer emotional support to them. Another popular myth is about limited lifespan of childhood cancer survivors. Long-term side-effects of children with cancer depend on several factors such as timing of initial diagnosis and treatment appropriateness. At our Hospitals, we have a mechanism in place to manage this through long-term follow up clinics.
It is incorrect to assume that children with cancer or survivors have learning disabilities. Most survivors are high-performing achievers who do well in their education and career. At SKMCH&RC, Lahore, we have a schooling programme which aims to keep young students at par with their classmates while they are away from school due to intense and prolong treatment. It especially adds value to the Hospital stay of those pediatric patients who cannot afford regular school education. Students who complete assigned syllabus are then acknowledged in a graduation ceremony organized by the Hospital, which is a testament to the academic capabilities of children fighting cancer. Moreover, we have had our childhood cancer survivors work with us, gainfully employed as valuable members of our Shaukat Khanum family. These steps facilitate rehabilitation and reintegration of children with cancer and childhood cancer survivors in the society.
On this Childhood Cancer Awareness Day, you can choose to raise awareness about childhood cancers and show support for childhood cancer patients, survivors and caregivers by sharing your messages on “Better Survival is Achievable #ThroughOurHands”.