The 15th of February marks International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) and is used to continue to create a greater awareness and education to empower all of us to recognise the early warning signs of childhood cancer, make informed choices about our children’s health and counter fears and misconceptions about childhood cancer. Each year, a distinct group of childhood cancer stakeholders is highlighted: #throughourhands giving tribute to children and adolescents with cancer (2021), #throughyourhands with focus on healthcare teams and volunteers (2022) and #throughtheirhands paying tribute to the families and caregivers (2023).
The theme this year is #throughyourhands highlighting the incredible individuals whose hands care for children and teens with cancer or life-threatening blood disorders. Just as these children are entrusted in the hands of the multi-disciplinary teams, every child’s journey is also in our hands. It is our responsibility to know the early warnings signs for swift detection to be able to refer patients timeously to specialised treatment and care and in doing so decrease the mortality and morbidity of cancer in children.
Every year, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 400 000 children and adolescents of 0-19 years old develop cancer. Leukaemias, brain cancers, Lymphomas, and solid tumours, such as Neuroblastoma and Wilms tumours are the most common childhood cancers. Cure rates in high-income countries (HICs) with 20% of the world’s children with cancer exceed 80%, while only 30% in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are cured. The survival rate of childhood cancer in South Africa is around 55-60% and seems to be on the rise.
Public health campaigns impact on early diagnosis and referral which translates into improved outcomes but may have limited impact on decreasing the incidence of paediatric malignancies are not related to modifiable risk factors. Dedicated centres for childhood cancer treatment requires specialised diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities, and the ability to manage complications. Childhood cancer care should ideally be managed in a limited number of treatment centres in which resources and expertise are concentrated with good satellite centres who can deliver some treatment, thereby decreasing the burden on families, providing rapid management of complications, and decreasing abandonment of treatment.
It is essential to have individuals trained in paediatric oncology i.e., paediatric oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pharmacists, nurses, and allied care workers. Different childhood cancers require different treatment intensities for maximum cure rates; for example, the chemotherapy for Wilms tumour is far less intense than for acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Collaboration with centres of excellence in HICs allows multi-disciplinary expertise with local knowledge and capabilities.
Every child, teenager and parent who starts their childhood cancer journey, have hope that their child will survive and live a long, happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. As a global childhood cancer community, we believe that increased awareness and accurate information and knowledge can empower all of us to recognize the early warning signs of childhood cancer, make informed choices about our children’s health and counter fears and misconceptions about childhood cancer. During the prevention, care, and management; as well as the rehabilitation and integration of survivors, there are many role-players that contribute to the success thereof. Parents and families have hope when they trust their children and teenagers #throughyourhands and on ICCD 2022 we salute the healthcare workers, allied workers and NGOs who impact on the lives of children and teens with cancer. They are the voices of the families and give hope to the children, teens and their families to complete the cancer treatment. Together, and #throughyourhands we can reach the WHO Global Childhood Cancer Initiative (GICC) of 60% survival rate by 2030 and in doing reduce the suffering of the children.
Covid-19 has had a substantial impact on both those that treat and those who are treated. Leaving no one behind includes government’s commitment to all children and their families including our most vulnerable children with non-communicable, long-term conditions. Let us amplify the visibility of childhood cancer at all levels and reach the breadth of stakeholders with the power to effect life-saving change.
Together, we can sustain and reinforce healthcare professionals in the fulfilment of their all-important role and make a positive difference for children and teenagers with cancer worldwide.
If you are concerned your child may have cancer, please refer your child or teenager here: https://choc.org.za/choc-patient-referral-pathways/
Professor Gita Naidu Chair: South African Children’s Cancer Study Group
Sandhya Singh Director, Non-Communicable Diseases National Department of Health
Hedley Lewis Chief Executive Officer of CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa
For Media Queries contact Hedley Lewis: 0829947655 – [email protected]