Health & WellnessLifestyles

Spotlight on childhood cancer

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

It’s never easy dealing with a sick child, but a cancer diagnosis in children can be completely devastating for both the child and their loved ones.

Childhood cancer can affect children at any age.

While local statistics were not immediately available, studies suggest the number of children diagnosed with cancer is increasing globally.

September, which is widely recognized as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, brings much needed attention to the topic.

The most common types that cancer in children is Leukemias, which are cancers of the bone marrow and blood. According to the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA), Leukemia accounts for about 31 percent of all cancers in children.

Brain and central nervous system tumors make up about 20 percent of childhood cancers.

Other more common childhood cancers include Neuroblastoma, which usually occurs in infants and young children; and Wilms tumor, which starts in the kidney.

The PHA noted that parents can sometimes overlook early symptoms as they often overlap with symptoms commonly associated with other illnesses or injuries.

“Parents should be sure that their children have regular medical check-ups and watch for any unusual signs or symptoms that do not go way. These include: an unusual lump or swelling; an unexplained paleness and loss of energy; easy bruising; an ongoing pain in one area of the body; limping; unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away; frequent headaches, often with vomiting; sudden eye or vision changes; sudden unexplained weight loss.”

The PHA noted that some children are at higher risk for cancer because of family higher and may require regular checkups.

Support

While a cancer diagnosis is nerve wracking, Cancer Society of The Bahamas Administrator Erinn Storr stressed that it is not the time to throw in the towel. She also underscored the importance of support for both the caregiver and the patient.

“We encourage persons that cancer is not a death sentence, but a new lease on life,” she said.  

“We help educate the parents/guardians about how to care for a child living with this disease; with healthy lifestyle changes and how to administer care. Caregivers go through almost the same pain, anguish and disappointments as the persons diagnosed with these diseases, and these caregivers have to have emotional, spiritual and also moral support to continue to care for their loved one.”

While the cancer society is widely known for the assistance it provides for adult patients, the support it offers for younger patients is also noteworthy.

“The children support group at the Cancer Society is called Freedom Kids Support Group, which caters to children from the ages of two to 17 who have been diagnosed with cancer or sickle cell disease,” Storr said.  

“The society assists with financial assistance for treatment such as: PET/CT scans, port-a-caths devices, chemotherapy, etc.  Quarterly, the support group committee members arranges social and educational events for just those children and their parents/guardians.  Activities are organized for them to help them forget in the moment of what they are going through and have a fun filled time with other children like themselves. 

“Events organized for the kids are Easter egg hunt, summer bash, back to school, and
the finale the Christmas party.”

In a February report on Health System Strengthening for Childhood Cancer in the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization indicated that cancer is among the leading causes of death in children under the age of 15 years.”

The report which stems from a February 2020 meeting in Trinidad and Tobago involving nine Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas, added, “In high income countries, pediatric cancer mortality has been reduced significantly, as a result of earlier diagnosis and effective treatment, survival rates are 80 percent or higher. In the Caribbean pediatric cancer mortality continues to be high and survival rates significantly lower than high-income countries, where several Caribbean countries report two-year overall survival of about 55 percent.

“As a result, there is increasing interest in the global health community to strengthen health systems to improve outcomes and survival rates for children with cancer.”

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