-Dr. Preetam Jain, Medical Oncologist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death from disease in childhood in India. It is estimated that nearly 40-50,000 new childhood cancer cases occur each year in the country. Cancer is the 9th common cause for death among children between 5 to 14 years of age. This makes India a country with the highest prevalence of childhood cancer which could be attributed to its higher population of young people — 30 per cent of its population is below 14 years, according to 2011 Census.
So, this International Childhood Cancer Day observed on February 15 to raise awareness and express support for children and adolescents with cancer, survivors and their families, it is time to re-examine and combat the situation with more preparedness.
Common cancers in children
One of the most common cancers observed in children is Leukemia – more prevalent in children between the ages of 2-4 years. Brain tumors and other nervous system tumors are the second most common cancer seen in pediatric age group. Another type of cancer is Neuroblastoma that arises from immature nerve cells in infants and young children. Mainly found in children younger than age of 5 years, this disease often begins in the adrenal glands. Hodgkin lymphoma is another type of cancer that is similar in both children and adults. Lymphoma — both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin — Wilms tumor, Rhabdomyosarcoma, Retinoblastoma, Bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma) are other types of cancer found in children.
Prevalence in India
The proportion of childhood cancers relative to all cancers reported by Indian cancer registries varied from 0.8% to 5.8% in boys, and from 0.5% to 3.4% in girls. In the recent past, age-adjusted cancer incidence rates had ranged from 18.6 per million to 159.6 per million for boys and 11.3 to 112.4 for girls. The highest incidence was observed for males (159.6) in the southern region of the country and the lowest in North-east in both boys (18.6) and girls (11.3). Leukemia and lymphoma were the commonest malignancies in boys whereas leukemia and brain tumors were the commonest in girls.
Survival outlook in India
The good news is that most pediatric cancers are highly curable, provided prompt and effective treatment is available. In many developed countries, three out of four children survive. Unfortunately, in India 70% children die of cancer owing to late diagnosis or none at all along with lack of access to information and life-saving treatment. Sometimes, families do not avail of the appropriate treatment, or they are end up abandoning treatment once it has started.
Another reason is that the cost of treating paediatric cancers is very high. Unlike cancers in adults, cancers in children require a bigger team of medical professionals including oncologist, radiologist, pathologist, internist etc.
Yet with timely diagnosis and treatment, most childhood cancers are curable, treatable and liveable. Some of the childhood cancers have more than 90% survival with the best available treatment. The types of treatment depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Common treatments include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.
So, this International Childhood Cancer Day, the healthcare fraternity and general public need to join hands for more awareness to deliver the needed care and support to the children who are suffering.
“NO CHILD SHOULD DIE OF CANCER- CURE FOR MORE AND CARE FOR ALL”