15 February is International Childhood Cancer Day, a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer, and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, survivors, and their families.

Recent research estimates that one in 408 children worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15 years. The survival rate of childhood cancer is dependent on the region in which that child lives. While there is an 80% survival rate in most high-income countries, this drops as low as 20% in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Fortunately, children with cancer in South Africa have improved outcomes of between 55-60%.

Additional problems in developing countries include a lack of awareness of the signs of childhood cancer, delayed diagnosis and a healthcare infrastructure that is not robust. In addition, due to a lack of attention on the development of less toxic drugs and targeted treatments, a large percentage of survivors of childhood cancer will go on to suffer with life-limiting conditions.

These children have the right to experience the highest attainable standard of healthcare and access to well-resourced facilities for the treatment of their illness, but this seldom includes access to excellent palliative care. Providing compassionate and comprehensive palliative care is crucial for these young patients and their families. Palliative care is appropriate from the time of diagnosis of a life-threatening disease like cancer and should routinely be offered alongside treatments aimed at cure, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the child and family’s world is turned on its head. At that moment they understand that nothing will be the same again. Not only must they absorb knowing their child will become very ill and weakened as they embark on curative options, but they are also confronted with the possibility of death. In addition, they are likely to endure enormous financial stresses, adding to their already fragile emotional wellness. Palliative care offers an additional layer of support that helps to bring some perspective. It does this by ensuring the holistic needs of the child and family are met by members of a multi-disciplinary team.

Palliative care provides an additional layer of support

A palliative care approach brings an additional layer of support that helps to bring back some perspective. It does this by ensuring that the holistic needs of the child and family are met by several members of a multi-disciplinary team.

Palliative care for children with cancer is appropriate for several reasons, including:

  • It encompasses the total well-being of the child, addressing not only their physical needs but also their psychological, spiritual and social distress. A palliative approach recognises that a child’s health involves not only their body but also their mind and spirit.
  • Palliative care extends to provide support for the family. Coping with a child’s illness can be emotionally, financially and practically challenging for parents and caregivers. Palliative care helps them to navigate this difficult journey and access community resources where possible.
  • Early intervention of palliative care will ensure that the child’s pain and other distressing symptoms are managed effectively from the start.
  • Palliative care aims to ensure the best possible quality of life for the child and for members of the family. It focuses on alleviating pain, managing symptoms, and improving comfort.
  • When curative treatments are unsuccessful, palliative care offers seamless support at the end of life and into the time of bereavement.

Stand with PatchSA this International Childhood Cancer Day to ensure that every child diagnosed with cancer is also offered the additional layer of support that palliative care can provide.

You can learn more about providing palliative are to children by taking one of our free online courses found on our Patch Academy website at www.academy.patchsa.org

Where can you find support for children with cancer in South Africa?

Here is a list of organisations within South Africa providing support to children with cancer and their family members.

  1. CHOC
  2. CANSA
  3. Rainbows and Smiles
  4. Cupcakes of Hope
  5. Reach for a Dream
  6. Little Fighters Cancer Trust
  7. Kids Kicking Cancer