International Childhood Cancer Day

International Childhood Cancer Day: Every Child Should have Equal Right to Fight Cancer

Let’s pledge to increase awareness about childhood cancer in the community so that early diagnosis and referrals can help improve survival rate

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year, more than 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer around the world. Approximately 8 in 10 of these children live in low and middle-income countries where their survival rate is often poor. Every year, 15th of February is marked as the International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD). It is a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families. Learn more about childhood cancer from Dr. Haleema Saeed, Consultant Paediatric Oncology at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC) who sheds light on how we are fighting it at SKMCH&RC.

What are some of the challenges of fighting childhood cancer in Pakistan?

In Pakistan, about 8,000 new childhood cancer cases are reported every year but we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg and a huge number of cases remain unreported.

Cancer is a curable disease, if diagnosed and treated appropriately at an early stage. In Pakistan, leukaemia (a type of blood cancer) is the most common type found in children. Unlike the west where survival rate of leukaemia is more than ninety-five percent, this is much lower in our country.  Factors leading to these poor outcomes include rampant malnutrition, infections, and late diagnosis. Some symptoms of leukaemia are pallor, fatigue, easy bruising and frequent bone pains and if parents notice these symptoms in their children, they should immediately seek medical help.

What is the best defence against childhood cancer?

Most childhood cancers are not preventable so the focus should be on early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Regular medical check-ups must be done after every six months to a year for early detection of cancer.

One of the reasons that timely treatment of cancer is delayed in children is that instead of reaching to the oncologist on priority, parents often attempt alternative medicine options like spiritual healing and other ways which further delays curative therapy.

Which types of childhood cancers are more prevalent in Pakistan?

Besides leukaemia, other common types of cancer seen in Pakistan include lymphomas, bone tumours, and retinoblastomas. Retinoblastoma can be hereditary so genetic screening should be done once a child has been identified with the disease. Find out more statistics on childhood cancer as reported by the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Registry.

How SKMCH&RC is helping children fight cancer?

SKMCH&RC is providing state-of-the-art treatment for childhood cancer. An important technology in the treatment of leukaemia is cytogenetics and evaluation of minimal-residual disease (MRD) which is being provided to patients at our Hospital, 75 percent of whom receive free of cost treatment. Cytogenetics helps in risk stratification and appropriate treatment plans. SKMCH&RC uses MRD technology to identify the effectiveness of treatment and modify treatment accordingly. In cancer treatment for children, the role of trained paediatric oncologists is vital along with the availability of latest technology. At SKMCH&RC, we have the best team of paediatric oncologists and trained health care staff. We are also contributing to improve the country’s overall capacity of treating childhood cancer by training physicians and other nursing staff who deals with paediatric field of cancer. Our trained health care professionals are serving in number of institutes across the country.

Since childhood cancer is a global issue, recently SKMCH&RC joined the St. Jude Global Alliance, a collaboration of institutions dedicated to increasing access to care and improving the quality of health care delivery for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases worldwide.  This will help us to improve care to the patients in Pakistan and also to contribute internationally in the field of paediatric oncology.

SKMCH&RC offers Ancillary Health Services for children fighting cancer. Activities for children, such as painting, drawing, music and other play therapy strategies are very effective tools in helping paediatric patients to deal with cancer treatment. These activities enable them to cope with the new changes in their lives. At SKMCH&RC in Lahore and Peshawar, we have established a child friendly environment for kids fighting cancer to provide them a feeling of comfort and reduce anxiety. We also have a palliative care facility that helps us in improving quality of life for our patients regardless of the outcome of the treatment.

In conclusion, we need to increase awareness about childhood cancer in the community so that early diagnosis and referrals can help improve survival rate.

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