What is childhood cancer?
Last year, various activities were un- dertaken to commemorate the above-men- tioned days but one foundation hyped up the awareness of childhood cancers through its activities covered by most of the major electronic and print media houses. This is due to the fact that the phenomenon and its devastating effect on children and their families in the country, hardly attract attention from the general public. Cancer has become a taboo in
our society and most people do not want to associate children with this dreadful disease. The reality, however, is that child- hood cancers refer to neoplastic disorders affecting individuals aged less than fifteen years who are part of the age group that constitute approximately 40 per cent of the population of Ghana.
Health experts maintain that childhood cancers can be cured provided prompt and essential treatment is accessible. It is however, noteworthy that 80 per cent of children with cancers live in developing countries where treatment is not effective, and as a result, four out of five of these children diagnosed with cancer will die.
In our country, there is no compre- hensive statistical data on the magnitude of childhood cancers but using estimates from incidence data in more developed countries, about one (1) in 500 children will be affected. In other words, it is estimated that over 1,000 children below the age of 15 years are affected by cancer yearly in Ghana.
Even though survival rates of the dis- ease in developed countries go as high as 75 per cent more in some cases, the chances of survival in Ghana are usually lower than 20 per cent of most cancers. This is as a result of various challenges faced here, which include the following:
The general lack of awareness about childhood cancer, compounded by adverse socio-cultural practices. Due to ignorance and superstitious beliefs, childhood cancer is attribut- ed to the work of witchcraft or other evil forces and so many children are either sent to prayer camps or herb- alists for healing. After unsuccessful treatment by these so-called healers, the children are then brought to the hospital where about 70 per cent to 80 per cent of them arrive with
an advanced stage of cancer and invariably lose their lives.
Other limitations include inadequate diagnostic services, unavailability or irregularity in the supply and unaffordable costs of chemothe- rapeutic agents, limited access to suitable protocols and inadequate supportive care. The fact is that sup- port for cancer treatment is limited in Ghana and the cost of treatment is left in the hands of families and a few donors for their children.
There is limited access to services with a few health workers trained in paediatric cancer management.
Currently, there are only two Paediatric Cancer Units in the country and these are located at Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals in Accra and Kumasi respectively. The commonest cancers in order of incidence are Lymphomas, Leu- kemia's Retinoblastoma, Wilms tumor Rhabdomyosarcoma, Neuroblastoma and Brain tumors.
The effects of childhood cancer
The word “cancer” stirs up deep fears of a silent killer that creeps up on a patient without warning. It evokes such despera- tion that it has become a metaphor for grief and pain, a scourge that strains intellectual, social and emotional resources of children. When cancer effects a child, family mem- bers, friends and the patient are touched with such emotions and frustrations that cannot be described.
Cancers in children are supposedly rare and therefore, do not get as much attention as other diseases like malaria, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS et cetera. However, the extent of sickness and pain caused by cancer, places a high burden on individuals, fam- ilies and their communities.
Apart from the enormous emotional strain, the high treatment cost of childhood cancer also places heavy financial burdens and hardship on families, especially since the National Health Insurance Scheme