Cancer is no respecter of age. This dangerous disease attacks adults, adolescents and babies. A lot of efforts are being made to tackle cancer, which is becoming a social and health menace. This is why February 15 is celebrated annually as world childhood cancer day.
Globally, childhood and adolescent cancer is threatening to overtake infectious diseases, as one of the highest causes of disease-related mortality in children.
“According to IARC (2015), the reported worldwide incidence of childhood cancer is increasing, from 165, 000 new cases annually to 215, 000 cases for children 14 years and younger and 85,000 new cases for 15-19 year-olds. Many more remain uncounted and unreported due to a lack of childhood cancer registries in a large number of countries.
The pattern of cancer in childhood differs considerably from those among people of all other ages. In general, leukemia constitutes about a third of all cancer in childhood. The other most common malignancies are lymphomas and tumors of the central nervous system. Indeed, there are several tumors types that occur almost exclusively in children, including neuroblastoma, nephroblastoma, medulloblastoma and retinoblastoma.
Speaking during the commemoration of childhood cancer day at the pediatric ward of University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH), the Head of the Department, a pediatric oncologist, Professor Nwadiuto Akani, said if pregnant women are healthy enough, some types of cancers that are seen in newborn babies would reduce. According to her, there are situations where lack of important nutrients in the body predisposes the child to develop certain types of cancer.
“If we know that micro nutrient deficiency can lead to cancer in children, women within productive ages should start early by eating food filled with life-giving nutrients before and during pregnancy, so that they don’t pass nutritional deficiency to their unborn children,” she said.
Children with low immunity, whether inherited or acquired, are prone to lymphomas and any incidence of enlarged glands should be medically investigated.
Professor Akani also pointed out that leukemia in children can be caused by exposure to hydrocarbons. He said the dose that will not affect adults will affect children as their body mass cannot handle high doses.
She advised pregnant women to reduce exposure to hydrocarbons and not to sell fuel or hang around fuel station. She said early detection was important, as some of these cancers are curable when presented early.
Dr. Abia Nzelu, on his part, said exposing children to cigarette smoke and alcohol weakens their immune systems and increases the risk of cancer.
He said parents should also keep phones and computers away from children, as these gadgets expose them to harmful radiations.
Some mothers take herbs soaked in alcohol during pregnancy (agbo), while others have the habit of giving alcoholic drinks to their young children oblivious of the consequences of their actions. This is wrong. Malaria, which is endemic in Africa, is one of the most common risk factors in childhood cancer in Nigeria.
Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, is common in children living in malaria endemic region, like Nigeria. It is believed that chronic malaria in children reduces their resistance to Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which is linked in most cases to the development of certain rare cancers, including Burkitt’s lymphoma. Some studies have suggested that viruses, such as Hepatitis B, Human Herpes and HIV, may also contribute to increased risk for some childhood cancers.
Dr. Ihesinachi Kalagbor, founder of Simara Children Cancer Foundation, whose child survived leukemia, in addition to partnering the pediatric ward in the fight against this disease, advised parents, relatives and care givers on how to pay attention to their children.
According to her, one can use the saint siluan mnemonic to detect the early warning signs of cancer in children. She explained that this principle involves taking many steps in monitoring children. The SILUAN means:
S-stands for seeking medical help early for persistent signs.
I-sound like the eye and remind parents to check the eyes for squints, spot in the pupil, bulges and any form of blindness as any of these may indicate the presence of malignancy.
L-is for you to check for lumps in the pelvis, head, abdomen, limbs, testes, lymph nodes and neck region. When you are bathing and dressing the child look out for any lump that was not there initially.
U-stands for unexplained fatigue, fever, easy bruising, pallor and bleeding.
A-advises parents to constantly check the children for Aches. She reminded parents to continually ask questions on aches. Joints aches, bones, back and easy fractures should be checked.
N-is for neurological check. Any change in gait, balance, behavior, loss of milestones and increase in head circumference should be presented to a medical doctor on time.
Dr. Chinwe Ezirim, a cancer survivor and the founder of Drop Cancer Foundation, reiterated the importance of nutrition in the prevention and cure for cancer.
According to her, “building and maintaining a healthy immune system, even before the conception of a baby, is paramount. Continuing with it and feeding the children with the right diet, in addition to guiding them to maintain good life style, will definitely reduce cancers cases in Nigeria.”
February 15 each year has been set aside as part of the global campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support to children and adolescents living with cancer. “It is a day when we come together to continue the work, to: “Advance Cures and Transform Care” and to make childhood cancer a national and global child health priority,” said an expert.