Child cancer victims need a helping hand


At a time when targeted therapies work like magic bullets killing cancer cells and sparing normal ones, only 15-20 per cent child victims of the disease are treated in India due to lack of diagnosis and access to treatment. With cancer affecting approximately 60,000 children in the country annually, the Lancet Oncology series released Tuesday is a wake-up call to the government to deal with the challenge of saving tiny lives.

Lancet researchers agree that specific needs of the children have perhaps been overlooked as they represent less than 2 per cent of the global cancer burden. This is despite the fact that childhood cancer is one of the success stories of cancer treatment with 80 per cent or more victims beating the disease in high-income countries.

WHO estimates that cancer claims lives of around one lakh children below the ages of 15 every year worldwide and 94 per cent of these deaths occur in low-income countries.

The Indian Council of Medical Research's National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research at Bangalore has for the first time compiled a report that details the incidence of common cancers in children in India. Only one out of 10 such children receives complete therapy.

Lack of a formal training programme means there is a paucity of trained paediatric oncologists who can visit rural areas. On the other hand oncologists at urban cancer centres admit that follow-up with patients from faraway places is difficult as they do not report regularly for treatment. Treating a child with cancer costs an approximate Rs 4 to 5 lakh and dislocation for cancer treatment to a new city can add to that financial burden.

Compliance to treatment is a real challenge and an acute need has been felt among paediatric oncologists to bring together parents, volunteers, health professionals to sensitise society and influence health policy decision makers to mobilise resources.

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