The top 5 childhood cancers can be treated if detected early. A lack of knowledge about cancer which delays diagnosis, limited access to appropriate treatment and the need to focus on other child health priorities means that only 2 to 3 out of 10 children in under-privileged countries are cured.
Early detection makes a big difference because less advanced tumours are easier to cure and they often need less intensive treatments.
Types of childhood cancer
According to the South African Children’s Cancer Study Group (SACCSG) registry statistics, for 2009 to 2013, the 5 foremost childhood cancers in South Africa are:
Children can be treated if cancer is detected early. Although childhood cancers share general symptoms with other illnesses, the early warning signs must be noted with urgency.
In South Africa, the St Siluan Warning Signs for Childhood Cancer are used.
(These warning signs of childhood cancer are derived from the name of St Siluan, a Russian Orthodox monk who prayed ceaselessly for humanity.)
St Siluan Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer
S – Seek medical help early for ongoing symptoms.
I – White spot in the eye, new squint, sudden blindness or bulging eyeball.
L – Lump on the stomach, pelvis, head, arms, legs, testicle or glands.
U – Unexplained fever present for over two weeks, weight loss, fatigue, pale appearance, easy bruising & bleeding.
A – Aching bones, joints, back and easy fractures.
N – Neurological signs, a change in walk, balance or speech, regression, contiguous headaches with/without vomiting & enlarged head.
There are 3 most common treatments for cancer and they are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These treatments may be applied on their own or in combination with each other.
Although risk factors for childhood cancers are not well understood, some factors can increase the risk.
Lifestyle and cancer
You can adopt a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of cancer. This includes making smart food choices, doing regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, alcohol and other known cancer-causing agents.
Myths vs facts
Cancer is not infectious. You can’t catch it from another person and your child can’t pass it on to their siblings or other children in their school. It's unlikely for 2 children in one family to be diagnosed with childhood cancer.
We can challenge perceptions by improving our knowledge of cancer and differentiate between myths and facts so that we can reduce the negative stigma attached to those living with cancer in our communities.
Do you or your child need support?
The Western Cape Department of Health offers extensive cancer support, from early detection to diagnosis, at 2 paediatric oncology units, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Tygerberg Children’s Hospital.
CANSA’s Tough Living with Cancer (TLC) #CANSAtlc creates #ChildhoodCancerAwareness campaigns and they support youth and families affected by cancer. If you’re a parent in need of support, you are invited to join a TLC support group in a CANSA care centre nearest to you.
The childhood cancer charity CHOC (Children’s Haematology Clinics) established in 1979 by a parent group in Johannesburg is now a national organisation that offers a Parents Supporting Parents programme and an excellent Handbook which it makes available to parents of children diagnosed with cancer.
Professor Davidson, the head of Haematology and Oncology at Red Cross Children’s Hospital urges parents to check any material with their doctors, especially if it seems to be at odds with what their children are receiving.