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February 15, 2020

‘Early diagnosis can help reduce childhood cancer mortality rate’

Lahore

February 15, 2020

LAHORE:Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC) has joined St. Jude Global Alliance of childhood cancer care organisations and emphasised that early diagnosis can help to reduce childhood cancer mortality rate in Pakistan.

In connection with International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) today (Saturday), Dr Haleema Saeed, Consultant Paediatric Oncology at SKMCH&RC, said it is a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), each year, more than 300,000 children, aged birth to 19 years, are diagnosed with cancer around the world. Approximately 8 in 10 of these children live in low and middle-income countries where their survival rate is often poor. “In Pakistan, about 8,000 new childhood cancer cases are reported every year but we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg and a huge number of cases remain unreported,” she said in a statement on the eve of International Childhood Cancer Day.

She added that, “cancer is a curable disease, if diagnosed and treated appropriately at an early stage. In Pakistan, leukemia or blood cancer is the most common type found in children. Unlike the west where survival rate of leukemia is more than 95 percent, this is much lower in our country. Factors leading to these poor outcomes include rampant malnutrition, infections, and late diagnosis. Some symptoms of leukemia are pallor, fatigue, easy bruising and frequent bone pains. Besides leukemia, other common types of cancer seen in Pakistan include lymphomas, bone tumours, and retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma can be hereditary so genetic screening and family counselling should be done once a child has been identified with the disease.”

Emphasising on the importance of early detection, Dr Haleema stated, “Most childhood cancers are not preventable so the focus should be on early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Regular medical check-ups must be done after every six months to a year for early detection of problems. One of the reasons that timely treatment is delayed is that instead of reaching to the oncologist on priority, parents often attempt alternative medicine options like spiritual healing and other ways which further delays curative therapy.” She said that SKMCH&RC is providing state-of-the-art treatment for childhood cancer. An important technology in the treatment of leukemia is cytogenetics and evaluation of minimal-residual disease (MRD) which is being provided to patients for last couple of years. Cytogenetics helps in risk stratification and appropriate treatment plans. SKMCH&RC uses MRD technology to identify the effectiveness of treatment and modify treatment accordingly.

In cancer treatment for children, the role of trained paediatric oncologists is vital along with the availability of latest technology. At SKMCH&RC, we have the best team of paediatric oncologists and trained health care staff. We are also contributing to improve the country’s overall capacity of treating childhood cancer by training physicians and other nursing staff who deals with paediatric field of cancer. Our trained health care professionals are serving in number of institutes across the country.

“Since childhood cancer is a global issue, in a recent development, Shaukat Khanum Hospital joined the St Jude Global Alliance, a collaboration of institutions dedicated to increasing access to care and improving the quality of health care delivery for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases worldwide. This will help us to improve care to the patients in Pakistan and also to contribute internationally in the field of paediatric oncology,” she said.

Dr Haleema told that painting, drawing, music and other play therapy strategies are very effective tools in helping paediatric patients to deal with side effects of cancer treatment. These activities enable them to cope with new changes in their lives. At Shaukat Khanum Hospitals in Lahore and Peshawar, we have established a child-friendly environment for kids fighting cancer to provide them a feeling of comfort and reduce anxiety. We also have a palliative care facility that helps us in improving quality of life for our patients regardless of the outcome of the treatment. Concluding her talk, Dr Haleema Saeed reiterated the need to increase awareness about childhood cancer in the community so that early diagnosis and referrals can help improve survival rate.