Most cancers in children curable if detected early, says oncologist

India needs to prioritise childhood cancer at the regional and national level and meet the targets set by WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, he said.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

NEW DELHI: Over 80,000 cancer cases are reported annually among kids in India, but most of them, if detected early, are curable.Speaking with this newspaper, Dr Manas Kalra, a pediatric oncologist at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said that in India, paediatric cancers are under-reported. “Many children are not diagnosed or are taken to tertiary care centres for cancer treatment. The main reason for this is lack of education, poor services at the periphery level, lack of awareness and poverty,” he said.

India needs to prioritise childhood cancer at the regional and national level and meet the targets set by WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, he said, adding that the aim is to achieve at least a 60 per cent survival and reduction of suffering for all children with cancer by 2030. “If we are in sync with this target and put our best efforts, then the lives of one million children with cancer can be saved in the next decade,” he said.

Dr Kalra said still primary healthcare physicians are not aware of when to suspect cancer in a child, which delays the diagnosis. “We need to raise awareness, educate health care workers and create referral pathways that aid in early detection and quick management of children.”

The latest therapies, like targeted and immunotherapies, have minimal side effects and are the future of cancer treatment. Blood cancer, the most typical cancer among children, is curable in 80 per cent, and so is Wilms’ tumour, the most common type of kidney cancer in children.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma – cancer that affects the lymphatic system, a part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system – is curable in 85 per cent of patients. “India also needs to focus on cancer research so that cost-effective methods and indigenous technologies are developed to increase survival rate, which is still less as compared to the western world.”

As children cannot express their problems, parents should become alert if their child is showing symptoms like persistent fever for more than a week, painless swelling in the body, if they are getting progressively pale, or developed bruises. Also, if one feels a lump in the abdomen, one should contact a doctor immediately.

The other symptoms, he said, of childhood cancer are the new onset of squint or even a white reflex in the eye. Children with brain tumours may vomit persistently, have headaches or are highly irritable. They may lose weight, be excessively sleepy or develop deviation of the mouth or eyes to one side. The pediatric oncologist said on International Childhood Cancer Day, observed on February 15, everyone should pledge to donate blood, support their neighbours and friends who are suffering from cancer and help out NGOs that work for children with cancer.

According to the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR-NCDIR), Bengaluru, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO)-India, childhood cancers in the 0-14-year age group accounted for 4 per cent of all cancers recorded between 2012-2019 in the country.

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The New Indian Express