Early detection key in childhood cancers
Between 800 and 1 000 South African children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year.
Most children can be treated successfully if the disease is detected at an early stage, which highlights the importance of parents and childminders having some awareness of childhood cancers and possible symptoms.
Early warning signs
Public awareness regarding the symptoms of childhood cancer is vital because early treatment is critical.
Cancers in children tend to differ from those found in adults, most often occurring in the developing cells such as in the tissues of the bone marrow, blood, kidneys and nervous system.
Different types of cancer may occur in children and these may cause a variety of symptoms. It is, however, essential to seek medical assistance immediately if your child displays some of the common early warning signs. These may include:
• Continued, unexplained weightloss.
Headaches, generally accompanied by vomiting, often occurring in the early morning or evening. Increased swelling or pain in the bones, joints, back or legs.
• A lump or mass in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits. Development of excessive bruising, bleeding or a rash.
A whitish colour behind the pupil. Persistent nausea or vomiting without experiencing actual nausea. Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness.
Eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and then persist. Recurrent fevers of an unknown origin.
Childhood cancers require specialist treatment by a paediatric oncologist. Treatment options vary and will depend upon the type of cancer and how far it has advanced. Treatment may include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation treatment, or a combination of these. Stem cell bone marrow transplants may form part of the treatment for blood cancers such as leukaemia.
Children tend to be more resilient to the side-effects of treatment such as chemotherapy when compared to adults. However, in certain instances, chemotherapy and radiation can cause long-term side effects and children with cancer will therefore require regular follow-ups throughout their lives.
Stem cell donations
While the chances of finding a donor match for someone with leukaemia or other life threatening blood diseases are low (around one in 100 000), it is possible that you could be a match and your bone marrow could potentially save someone’s life.
While family members, and siblings in particular, are generally the most suitable donors, only a small percentage of patients have a compatible sibling match, and around 70 percent of patients will require an unrelated donor match.
Any healthy person between the ages of 18 and 45 can become a bone marrow donor. All that is required is a small sample of blood, which is then sent to a specialised laboratory for tissue typing. Following that, the results are then placed on The South African Bone Marrow Registry.