CHILDHOOD CANCER – Not a death sentence!

This year, about 1000 Ghanaian children would be affected by cancer before the age of 15 years! With Ghana presently having only two (2) centres which provide comprehensive paediatric cancer care, a majority of these children do not even make it to the appropriate health facilities. In fact, only a combined total of 300 of these children are seen yearly at the two centres – Korle-bu Teaching Hospital and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital.

To paint a gloomier picture, only 20-30% of these children survive due to a vast array of challenges. This is in stark contrast to the developed world, where only 20% of the world’s children with cancers live, but about 80% of them survive!

Childhood cancers can affect any part of the body. In Ghana, the commonest childhood cancers seen include Lyphomas (cancer of the lymph nodes), Leukaemia (cancer of the blood), Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye) and Wilms tumour (cancer of the kidney).

The cause of childhood cancers is not clearly known in many cases. As most of the cancers occur in very young age group, it is known that the causative factors must have been at play during formation of the foetus in the womb. A few of the cancers are due to genetic factors, such as some forms of eye cancer. Some are linked to viruses – such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Ebstein-Barr virus; some to ionizing radiation, among others. In most cases, no cause is found.

Due to the fact that a cause is hardly found in cases of childhood cancers, the best way to ensure good outcomes is to ensure Early Diagnosis and Adequate Treatment.

Early warning signs of childhood cancers can easily be remembered with this mnemonic:
S – Seek help for persistent symptoms
I –eye signs: white spot, squint, bulging eye, blindness
L – lumps in the abdomen, head, neck, glands
U – unexplained fever, weight loss, bleeding, fatigue, pallor
N – neurological: change in balance, gait, headaches

Childhood cancer diagnosis in Ghana does not have to be a death sentence!
Tackling the challenges which at the moment hinder us from achieving the 70-80% survival rates being achieved elsewhere is key.

Lack of funds is one major impediment in the treatment of childhood cancers. The treatment cost ranges from ¢4000 to ¢8000 for about 60 % of cases to about ¢25000 for the treatment of leukaemias. The treatment duration spans from 3 months to about 3 years, depending on the type of cancer.

We owe it to the children of Ghana to continue to fight until no child has to die from cancer because of his/her parents’ inability to pay for treatment. We will continue to advocate for the inclusion of childhood cancer treatment on the National Health Insurance Scheme. We will continue to promote childhood cancer awareness through education and we will continue to join in fundraising efforts of well-meaning groups such as the newly launched Lifeline for Childhood Cancer Ghana (LCCG).

Remember, a child cured of cancer has at least 50 potential years of contributing to nation growth!

The time to act is now!

Go gold for Childhood cancer awareness!

Dr Lily Gloria Tagoe
Paediatric Resident and member, Paediatric Society of Ghana

Article by Oscar Johnson