Fortunately, there are available treatments for most childhood cancers in the form of generic medicines, surgery, and radiotherapy. More than 80% of children with cancer are cured in developed countries. However, only 20% of the children diagnosed with cancer are cured in developing countries such as the Philippines.
Childhood Cancer in the Philippines
According to the Cancer Coalition Philippines, there are 11 new cases and 8 deaths every day for childhood cancer, but due to detection and management issues, there are many cases left unreported and uncounted. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, based on their projections, there will be an increase of 80% by 2030 in cancer cases, even higher in developing countries such as the Philippines.
Some of the main childhood cancers in the Philippines
Leukemia – accounts for almost 50% of all childhood cancers in the Philippines. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. It happens when the DNA of immature blood cells becomes damaged, resulting in the abnormal reproduction of white blood cells, which crowd out the healthy ones.
The symptoms for leukemia may vary. However, the common symptoms include fever or chills, fatigue, frequent or severe infections, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen, easy bruising, severe weight loss, recurrent nose bleeds, and bone pain.
Brain and spinal cancer – This comprises 9.7% of cancers in children and adolescents in the Philippines.
Patients may suffer from headaches, dizziness, blurring of vision, double vision, difficulty in walking or handling objects.
Lymphomas (Hodgkin’s Disease or non-hodgkin Lymphoma) – This comprises 9% of childhood cancers. It is a cancer that starts in the cells of the immune system called lymphocytes which functions as our body’s defense against infection and other cells that can cause damage.
Some symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, chills, weight loss, fatigue, swollen abdomen, chest pain, shortness of breath, easy bruising, and frequent infections.
Retinoblastoma – This is an eye cancer most commonly occurring in young children and rarely occurs in adults, comprising 7.5% of cancers in children and adolescents in the Philippines. It is a cancer that develops in the retina, the sensitive lining on the inside of your eye that detects light.
Since retinoblastoma almost exclusively occurs in infants and small children, symptoms are rare. Some symptoms include having a white color in the center of the eye when light is flashed in the eye, having lazy eye, eye redness, and swelling.
Wilm’s Tumor – Another form of cancer that mostly affects children ages 3 to 4, Wilm’s Tumor or nephroblastoma is a rare kidney cancer that comprises 3.4% of all childhood cancers.
Osteogenic sarcoma – It is a cancer of the bone. The tumors start in areas where there is rapid growth, such as in the ends of the leg or arm bones. It comprises 2.3% of all childhood cancers.
Cancer Treatment in the Philippines
Despite our great medical leaps and advancements, we are still in the dark when it comes to the cure for cancer. However, the earlier the detection and treatment of cancer, the more significantly it will improve a patient’s health and way of life, which is why it is important to consult a doctor for any signs that may lead to an early diagnosis.
In the Philippines, there is still a huge budgetary and support deficit for cancer care and treatment. The location of most cancer centers, which are mostly found in Metro Manila, also proves to be a challenge to those who seek treatment.
At the moment there are several public campaigns, organizations, and foundations that are working to raise awareness and improve access to treatment of children with cancer. Public awareness is highly important in bringing a cure to patients and decreasing the chances of late diagnosis. This is due to the fact that two-thirds of all diagnosed cases in the Philippines are already in the advanced stages when cure is much harder or impossible to obtain or can only be carried out using treatments which are only available in large medical facilities, those of which most patients cannot afford.