Giving every child the best chance of surviving cancer
The paediatric oncologists at Tygerberg Hospital remain committed to improving every patient’s chance of survival and quality of life. Cancer continues to affect us significantly and as International Childhood Cancer Day is commemorated on 15 February, Western Cape Government Health (WCGH) expresses its support for children and adolescents with cancer, survivors and their families.
During what has been a challenging year of continuous adaptation and implementing new strategies, paediatric oncologists at Tygerberg Hospital have worked tirelessly to increase early-stage cancer detection, screening and diagnosis. At the same time, only one parent could accompany a child that had to be admitted for chemotherapy, and often parental discussions had to be online, sometimes difficult in the context of limited resources for families.
During the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to Tygerberg Hospital theatres and advanced imaging were limited and had to be negotiated on an individual patient basis to ensure that crucial investigations or operations were done for emergency purposes. Long-term survivors could not access these necessary investigations and therefore were negatively affected. ‘Major challenges have been accessing theatre time for solid tumour operations, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and radiotherapy due to de-escalation of routine services, and anaesthetists who have had to assist in the COVID-19 wards. These anaesthetists were therefore not able to sedate the children for these services as is the standard of care. One major issue was the fact that several children with cancer developed COVID-19 but fortunately recovered from COVID-19,’ said Prof. Mariana Kruger, Executive Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Clinical Unit Head of Paediatric Oncology at Tygerberg Hospital.
Responding to how the pandemic has affected paediatric oncology services, Prof. Kruger said: ‘We have had to institute COVID-19 screening procedures for parents and children prior to entering the paediatric oncology unit to prevent any infections. Furthermore, the usual support groups such as the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and others could not always provide the support they usually provide. However, the services have benefitted from obtaining equipment for which we have been waiting for months, particularly those that improve infection control such as improved screens between patient beds. We have also obtained additional monitors due to additional equipment that became available after the closure of the CTICC field hospital. A major improvement is that each side room is now equipped with medical air and we can provide high-flow oxygen to patients in need.’
When a cancer is detected at an early stage, the chances of cure dramatically improves than when detected at a later stage when the tumour has spread, and the disease is more advanced. ‘Bear with us if we only allow one parent at a time with a child patient. We know how stressful that is for the parent outside the hospital. Do not keep your children away from hospitals if you see any of the warning signs of childhood cancer in your child namely unexplained high fever, abnormal lumps or masses, pain that wakes the child up at night, tiredness and looking pale, abnormal bleeding and changes in gait or personality,’ added Prof. Kruger.
CANSA estimates that between 800 and 1 000 South African children are diagnosed with cancer annually. Of concern is the fact that half of the children with cancer in the country are seldom diagnosed. Tygerberg Hospital is urging parents and caregivers to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of childhood cancer, and to seek appropriate medical assistance where applicable.