International Childhood Cancer Day

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“Doctors can play a vital role in early detection of childhood cancers” – Dr. Alina Sadaf, Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at SKMCH&RC, Lahore.

The International Childhood Cancer Day is marked on the 15th of February to highlight unique obstacles in fighting cancer in children and the importance of community participation in overcoming these challenges. According to the International Scoiety of Paediatric Oncology, in high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer survive, but in many low- and middle-income countries, only about 20% survive because of misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis and difficulties in accessing care.

The focus for International Childhood Cancer Day this year is ‘Better Survival’ through “right care at the right time by the right team.” Addressing childhood cancer challenges in Pakistan, Dr. Alina Sadaf, Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at SKMCH&RC, Lahore said, “Unfrotunately, when children are taken to local doctors in rural or inner-city settings, they do not have the experience or skills to diagnose childhood cancer or refer these children to specialist cancer centers in a timely manner. Inappropriate diagnosis may lead to harmful or unnecessary treatments.”

Dr Alina Sadaf further added, “If care is fragmented among multiple institutions, miscommunication between treating physicians may lead to poor care and families may become tired of navigating multiple health care systems leading to treatment abandonment. It is not uncommon for us to see children who were handed a wrong cancer diagnosis, undergo surgery for a cancer that could be treated with chemotherapy or for a child to receive the wrong type of chemotherapy.”

Commenting on the role of specialist cancer centers, Dr Sadaf said that hospitals such as Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centres in Lahore and Peshawar provide multidisciplinary cancer care under one roof. Through a collaborative approach, the most appropriate treatment is provided at our hospitals, where over 75 percent of all patients receive financially supported care. We provide nutritious meals to all patients admitted under our care, as well as to the parents of children admitted to the hospital. Dr Sadaf added, “In addition, we provide vital supportive care to children with cancer including specialised nursing and emergency services, psychological care, and academic support with hospital-based teachers. Once a child has completed therapy, they are seen in long-term follow-up clinics where they undergo comprehensive evaluations. The goal is to re-integrate children into a normal childhood after their therapy is complete.”

Dr Alina Sadaf also emphasised the need to raise awareness amongst doctors to recognise the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. This can enable health practitioners to make an early referral to specialist cancer centres that can help save a child’s life by getting the “right care at the right time by the right team”.