Today is International Childhood Cancer Day. Although childhood cancers are rare, between 800 and 1000 South African children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer every year, according to The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). Between 800 and 1000 South African parents and relatives will have to deal with the news that their children are about to face a potentially fatal disease. Between 800 and 1000 families will have to start a gruelling series of treatments in the hope of saving their child’s life. Most will be treated successfully, but at least 23% of children won’t make it.

According to the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), less than half of children with cancer in South Africa are diagnosed. They list early symptoms of childhood cancers as:

  • White spots in the eye, new squint, new blindness, bulging eyeball
  • Lumps in the abdomen and pelvis, head and neck, limbs, testes and glands
  • Unexplained prolonged fevers for over two weeks, weight loss, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding
  • Aching bones, joints, or back and easy fractures
  • Neurological signs – change or deterioration in walk, balance or speech; regression of milestones; headache for more than a week with or without vomiting; enlarged head

The most frequent type of childhood cancer is leukaemia, which represents 25.4% of all childhood cancer in South Africa. The next four most common cancers are lymphoma, brain tumours, Wilms tumors (cancer of the kidneys), and soft tissue sarcomas.

According to the CHOC, childhood cancers tend to respond better to chemotherapy than cancer in adults; although chemotherapy can cause long-term side effects in children.

In South Africa, if a childhood cancer is detected early, than the child’s chances of surviving may be as high as 77%, according to CANSA.

If your child displays any of the symptoms above, or if you suspect they may have cancer, seek medical help immediately. Look for your nearest treatment centre here. .

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