Cancer in children: A rising problem

In photo: Enlarged Cancer cell. Reuters File photo for representation.

Cancer cases among children are on the rise in the country with boys being more susceptible and these numbers are growing by up to 1.5% year-on-year. One out of five children suffering from cancer in the world is from India. The incidence of childhood cancer ranges from 80-260 children affected per million population as per 2018 data.

Childhood cancer accounts for around 3-5% of all cancers in India and it is estimated that around 50,000 children under 15 years of age will be affected by some form of childhood cancer in the year 2020. The most common cancers among children will be related to blood and the brain with boys witnessing leukaemia and lymphoma in common, whereas in girls, the top two cancer types will manifest in form of leukaemia and brain tumour.

Signs and symptoms

Cancer in children differs from adults in many ways, but the good news is that cancer at early ages responds better to treatment. Common cancers like blood cancer and brain tumours among children are not so common among adults and around 80% of the cancer among children is treatable.

Though hard to realise but not impossible to ignore, the most common symptoms for blood cancer are frequent fever, loss of weight, generalised weakness, paleness of skin and loss of appetite in children. Other possible symptoms that are indicative of cancer are distension of stomach (abdomen), swelling in abdomen or limbs, headache with vomiting, seizures (fits) etc.

However, it should be noted that these are just possible symptoms of cancer and do not necessarily indicate presence of cancer. It is always advisable to consult your doctor when you notice such symptoms.

Childhood challenges

The cure rate of childhood cancer in developed countries is almost 80%, but in most developing countries, it hovers around 40%, which is an immediate challenge that needs to be addressed. Major causes for death in children suffering from cancer are delayed diagnosis at advanced stage, lack of adequate treatment facilities and lack of proper care during treatment. At the same time, the results also widely vary within India as cure rates are better in cities with better healthcare facilities, but we only have less than 10 such cities in the country.

Since the incidence of childhood cancers is low as compared to cancer in adult population, the infrastructure required for treating childhood cancer is lacking in our country despite children requiring better intensive care and monitoring units.

Majority of qualified oncologists are concentrated in eight metro and tier-one cities. On the same lines, there are not enough centres in India providing specialised training in treatment of childhood cancers. This adversely affects the quality of childhood cancer care, eventually leading to poorer cure rates in India.

The way ahead

One of the major myths that impacts timely treatment of cancer in the country is the association of cancer as a disease of the adult. This misinformation, coupled with the fear that cancer is untreatable as its is propagated through popular culture, is a major hindrance towards treatment of cancer. We need to change this perception about cancer. Everyone should know that we can cure more than 70% patients if we diagnose them early and treat them correctly.

There are various ways in which we can bridge the gaps in scarcity of trained child cancer specialists by getting online consultation with doctors. Getting assistance to find the right doctors is necessary as the right treatment from the right expert will maximise the chances of cure.

(The writer is co-founder,

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