EXCLUSIVE: Childhood cancers are curable, says expert

Updated on Sep 14, 2021 04:23 PM IST  |  45.3K
Experts list childhood cancer signs that one should look out for

Children often tend to fall ill frequently. Fever, joint pain, and swelling on the body is often dismissed as a temporary problem, it is in most of the cases. However, persistent fever, which is not responding to treatment, joint pain, and tenderness, can all be signs of childhood cancer. While childhood cancer is not preventable, one must keep a keen eye on these signs and consult a doctor, if needed.

While cancer is the last impression a parent can expect in his/her child, the World Health Organisation reveals that each year, approximately 4,00,000 children and adolescents of 0-19 years old are diagnosed with cancer. The figure proves that childhood cancer is a cause of worry. However, this doesn’t mean one should panic.

“The common types of childhood cancer are blood cancers - Leukemias and Lymphomas (most common one is Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia), brain tumours (most common is solid tumours in children below 5 years of age), and bone cancers – osteosarcomas,” Dr. Neha Singh, Consultant, Pediatric Hematoncology and BMT, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram, tells.

Mostly the signs of cancers are specific to the type of cancers but generally, children who have these symptoms are to be screened and kept on follow-up for suspected cancers.

“Persistent fever not responding to treatments, joint pain and tenderness, bleeding manifestations and bruising - skin, mouth, nose or bleeding anywhere else in the body, swellings anywhere in the body - neck, armpits, groins, stomach or any other part, headaches and significant weight loss (not seen very commonly in children,” mentions Singh.

While childhood cancer can be a very stressful event in the lives of both the parents and the child, the silver lining, Singh says, is that childhood cancers are curable with a success rate of 70 percent in the developed countries. “However, in developing countries like ours the success rate is lower owing to multiple hurdles,” adds Singh.

The treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. It can include:

1. Chemotherapy

2. Immunotherapy

3. Targeted therapy

4. Surgery

5. Radiotherapy

6. Haematopoetic stem cell transplant

“Childhood cancers are not preventable and hence screening for childhood cancers is not required. Just like in adults, genetic association has been seen widely in lymphomas and breast cancers in children,” suggests Singh.

Dr. Suparno Chakrabarti, HOD and Senior Consultant, BMT and Haematology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, adds that the disturbing fact, however, is there is very little awareness about Pediatric cancer in our country. A large portion of the incidence of childhood cancer in society is still not addressed. “Cancer in children is quite different from that in adults in many ways. Firstly, only 3 percent of all cancers occur in children, and secondly, they are fast growing but also very sensitive to chemotherapy treatment. Cure is a very realistic and practically achievable goal. One must get their children evaluated on seeing these symptoms,” says Chakrabarti.

It is not infectious and does not spread from one child to the other. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential for a good cure rate. “As the treatment is often long, we also suggest parents provide home care to the child. In such cases, it is very important that extra care is taken at home to ensure treatment discipline and regularity, good hygiene and balanced nutrition. A child after completing treatment for cancer is normal like any other child, can go to school and play among others," opines Chakrabarti.

Singh points out that over the years, comprehensive cancer care has come up in a big way. “New cancer drugs are getting approved with better outcomes each day. Cancers like Chronic Myeloid Leukemias can be treated with a single oral drug (Imatinib, dasatinib) with a 100 percent survival rate. This is a big success story in cancer treatments and will help save many more lives,” concluded Singh.

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