Every day, eight children die of cancer in the Philippines, according to the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines and reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is a “growing and serious public health concern” that requires action from the government to increase the survival rates in the country.
The good news is the House of Representatives’ committee on health met to tackle the proposed National Integrated Cancer Control Act. “A salient provision in the bill is the proposal for a P30-billion cancer assistance fund that will ‘support the medical and treatment assistance programs for patients," reports Inquirer.net's Nikko Dizon. Those who filed versions of the bill include Senators JV Ejercito and Sonny Angara, and Representatives Alfred Vargas, Karlo Nograles, Jericho Nograles, Chiqui Roa-Puno and Bernadette Herrera-Dy.
In the Philippines, the most common childhood cancers are acute lymphoblastic leukemia, followed by brain tumors and retinoblastoma, which is cancer of the eye, said Dr. Jochrys Estanislao, a pediatric hematologist and pediatric oncologist who holds clinic at ManilaMed (it launched its Cancer Care Center last June).
Recovery -- and survival -- rates differ from cancer to cancer, Dr. Estanislao explained. “There are no stages of acute leukemia; there's only standard risk and high risk. Retinoblastoma has stages 0 to 4, and for brain tumors, survivability depends on what type.”
“Acute lymphoblastic leukemia has a very good prognosis. The survival rate used to be very low, but it's improved. It's up to 90 percent -- that's for children age 1 to 10 years old. But, those younger and older than that are considered high risk. Adults who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a poor prognosis,” said the oncologist.
Cancer treatment, like chemotherapy, may seem like too much to bear for a small child, but Dr. Estanislao, explained, “Kids can take it, sometimes even better than adults can. Their kidneys, their liver, and bodily functions are still good, unlike adults who are exposed to alcohol or cigarette smoke.”
Parents play a crucial role when it comes to early detection of cancer. But Dr. Estanislao says assumptions usually get in the way of spotting cancer signs in children. “I think for parents, detecting cancer in their children is not easy. They think, ‘it's rare so my child can’t possibly have it.’”
She added that though some cancers that appear in childhood can be inherited, like retinoblastoma, cancer in kids also occur spontaneously. “The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown,” said the US National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Estanislao recommended a helpful mnemonic to help parents familiarize themselves with the symptoms of cancer. Below is a screencap of the mnemonic taken from Ped-onc.org:
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Each of the letters is a symptom and should be considered a red flag: you need to consult with a doctor. For the “D” in “child,” Dr. Estanislao explains bruising is usually seen in children with leukemia. They're also prone to infections because their white blood cell count is low which is why “C” is “constant infections.” And, whitish color behind the pupils, which is the A in “cancer,” is a sign of retinoblastoma, she added.
If you spot any of these in your child, talk to a pediatrician who will be able to refer you to a pediatric oncologist, advised Dr. Estanislao.