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When Cancer Stirkes Kids

When Cancer Stirkes Kids

It is a sad fact – cancer strikes anyone, even kids. Childhood cancer hits indiscriminately, unexpectedly, regularly, sparing no age group, socioeconomic status, ethnic group, or geographic region. Children as young as a few months, barely able to talk and walk, can already have cancer. Although struggling through cancer is indeed easier said than done, the best defense is information, knowing what to expect, both from the medical and emotional points of view, can make things more controllable.

I was fortunate enough to have attended the Philippine Pediatric Society’s Inter-Hospital Conference last July 6, 2011 at the 10th floor of Davao Doctors Hospital Medical Tower (many thanks to Dr. Grace Ann Q. Pecson for the invitation). The symposium was participated by medical clerks, post-graduate interns, pediatric residents, and consultants from various hospitals in Davao City with Ms. Judith Williams, MD and Ms. Sara W. Day, PhD, RN, as distinguished speakers of the said event. Both are health care practitioners and researchers from the International Outreach Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Tennessee, USA. Dr. Williams showed a presentation entitled, “Treating Pediatric Cancer in Davao, Why and How?” while Dr. Day presented an update on “Improving the Quality Nursing Care in Developing Countries.”

What treat pediatric cancer?

According to Dr. Williams, childhood cancer survival rate in developed countries is as high as 70-90% while in developing countries is as high like the Philippines; sadly, it is only about 25%. Often who are diagnosed, only two or three will most likely survive (Philippine Information Agency, 2009). Survival gaps include late diagnosis and co-morbidities, abandonment of treatment, unavailability of chemotherapeutic drugs and treatment protocols, lack of trained doctors and nurses, and poor infrastructure.

On cancer and infection control

Infection is defined as the process by which germs enter a susceptible site in the body and multiply, resulting in disease (Chemocare.com, 2005). In persons with cancer, infection is a common problem. Persons with cancer are at increased risk of infection as a result of:

  • The undying disease, for example leukemia or lymphoma, which affects the body’s normal defense against infection.
  • Side effects of treatment that interfere with the body’s normal defense against infection.

In terms of infection rates, the estimated cost for combating infection in developed countries (i.e., hospital acquired infection) amount to $4.5 Billion with mortality of 40,000-80,000 annually. In developing countries, data on infection rates is scarce and if available, it does not reflect the entire healthcare delivery system. Otherwise, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” still holds through even in these modern times. There is some important information that we need to learn about infection and how infection relates to the condition and treatment the cancer patients are receiving. This includes:

  • What to do decreases the chances of infection.
  • Signs and symptoms of infection.
  • When infection is most likely to occur.
  • How to manage infection if it does occur.

Addressing the issue of infection on cancer include microbiological upgrade in laboratories, prompt reporting of patients and families to their health care providers as well as advancement of the knowledge of the general public, but nothing beats the single most important procedure in preventing the spread of microorganisms-proper hand hygiene.

Improving cure rates in childhood cancer

The development of curative treatment for children with cancer is a benchmark for medical progress. The challenges consist of inadequate financial support, poor infection control practices, abandonment of therapy, late diagnosis, and inadequate data collection. Bridging the gap in improving the cure rates in childhood cancer includes:

  • Early suspicion of diagnosis, supportive treatment, rapid referral.
  • Accurate diagnosis
  • Treatment using well-designed protocols
  • Data collection
  • Education of doctors, nurses and parents.

Indeed, it is a difficult task, but is these steps are well taken care of, its effects are unprecedented.

Impact of treating childhood cancer

Sara W. Day, PhD, RN shared a very striking statement of Danny Thomas, the founder of Dt. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that “No child should die in the dawn life.” Treating childhood cancer involves collaborative, sequential efforts between the healthcare providers as well as the general public to provide emotional and psychological support to children with cancer and their families. The unparalleled benefits include an establishment of evidence-based therapeutic protocols, increased cure rates, establishment of the “ripple effect” in terms of infection control and hospital-wide standards of care, and research opportunities. These benefits bring a message of hope that children can survive cancer with early diagnosis and prompt, adequate treatment.

Kids at Davao Doctors Hospital do not fight cancer alone

All kinds of cancer, including childhood cancer, have common disease process – cells grow out of control, develop abnormal sizes and shapes, ignore their typical boundaries inside the body, destroy their neighbor cells, and ultimately can spread (or metastasize) to other organs and tissues (Miller, 2010)

With oncology as one of its flagships, Davao Doctors Hospital continues to excel in the standards of care in terms of cancer management in children. With well-trained cancer treatment team as well as state-of-the-art facilities such as the DDH Cancer Center and Infusion Unit, patients and families are guided through the pain, uncertainty, and disruptions caused by cancer. Replacing fear and misunderstanding with compassion and information is our goal in helping kids with cancer as well as their families cope with the illness.

The diagnosis and management of childhood cancers takes time and involve short-term and long-term side effects. Nevertheless, thanks to medical advances, more and more kids with caner are finishing successful treatment, leaving hospitals, and growing up just like everybody else.


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