For a country that accounts for more than 25 per cent of the world’s childhood cancer, it is a matter of concern that less than 30 per cent make it to a cancer centre due to poor access to care and funding, low advocacy and late detection.
On the occasion of the International Childhood Cancer Day on Tuesday, pediatric oncologists decried the poor state of affairs in treatment of childhood cancer in the country as they called for complete government aid, central flagship Ayushman scheme, for treatment of the children afflicted with the scourge.
“In fact, the top 10 centres in the country see no more than 13-15 per cent of children and survival rates vary from 10 to 80 per cent across hospitals,” said Dr Ramandeep Arora, Pediatric Oncologist, Max Hospitals and Secretary, India Pediatric Oncology Group, based on the data collected on behalf of the Cankid organization. India has 250 cancer centers.
Yet another study by doctors from Post Graduate Institute of Child Health, Noida (Child PGI)to ascertain the reasons for patients to discontinue treatment concurs with Cankids data.
Child PGI faculty members had analysed data on 154 paediatric cancer patients up to 18 years. The study found that at least 23 patients had discontinued treatment. Of them 11 patients had cited financial crisis, seven lacked family support, four patients went for a second opinion and three others were terminally ill, the study showed. It also found that many low- and middle-income families had discontinued treatment even after receiving financial assistance.
“The stigma of the disease and fear of chemotherapy make patients look for other treatments,” said Dr Nita Radhakrishnan, one of the authors of the study.
“Preventing cancer among children is not feasible, unlike in adults. So, early diagnosis of cancer is essential to ensure that treatment can be started promptly,” she said at a meeting of the UP Childhood Cancer Advocacy Group organised under the Academy of Paediatrics Uttar Pradesh recently.
There are multiple funding opportunities under the government for children with cancers.
However at times, availing it becomes difficult as documents are not complete for many children. If there is a uniform policy for children with cancer, as we have for thalassemia, hemophilia etc, it would improve the treatment and outcome immensely, Dr Radhakrishnan added.
Dr Rahul Bhargava, head of the Hemato-Oncology and Bone marrow transplant department of Fortis Memorial Research Institute hospital, Gurgaon, said that most people are still unaware that blood cancer can also be treated. “A child can be blessed with a second chance at life with the help of a stem cell transplant, which is widely considered the most effective treatment option,” he said.
“In most cases of childhood cancer can be cured if treated on time. Therefore, widespread awareness is needed,” said Dr Gauri Kapoor, Director Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Center (RGCIRC), Delhi.
According to Dr Kapoor, symptoms of childhood cancer are prolonged, unexplained fever; unexplained paleness and weakness; easy bruising or bleeding; an unusual lump or swelling or pain in one area of the body; frequent headaches often with vomiting and sudden changes in the eye or vision.
The most common types of childhood cancers include solid tumours, leukaemias, lymphomas, brain cancer, such as neuroblastoma, Wilms tumour, bone tumours and Retinoblastoma cancers, Dr Kapoor said.