By Babajide Okeowo
A consultant Haematologist, Dr Uche Nwokwu, says over 80 per cent of childhood cancers are curable because children respond faster to anticancer medicines and other forms of treatment, including surgery and radiotherapy than adults.
Nwokwu, a consultant at the National Cancer Control Programme of the Ministry of Health, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
He said that childhood cancers were curable to a large extent if they were detected early, because children respond to chemotherapy faster and they may also benefit from stem cell transplant better than adults.
”The most common types of childhood cancers include leukemias, lymphomas (especially Burkitt lymphoma in malaria endemic areas like ours) and other solid tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumours,” he said.
According to him, what is important in the management of childhood cancers is early detection and treatment, saying “the beauty of childhood cancers is that most of them are curable unlike adults.’’
The consultant said that the causes of childhood cancers were same with adult cancers.
He explained that causes of cancers were multifactorial, adding that there might not be a single cause for cancers; it is multifactorial in the sense that there are so many factors responsible for it.
“One of them is genetic predisposition, if that person now gets exposed to other environmental factors like radiation, chemicals or toxic substances because they are genetically predisposed, the person is more at risk of manifesting such cancers.
“There are some viruses like viral hepatitis for liver cancer, HPV for cervical cancer which causes about 90 per cent of cancer of the cervix. Some of these viruses can predispose people to cancer.
“For childhood cancers, these environmental factors can also come to play as well as genetic predisposition but why attention needs to be given to childhood cancer is that they are preventable and curable.
“They are preventable because they are mainly due to infections and exposure to environmental factors. For instance, pregnant woman, who gets exposed to radiation, is not good for the baby.
“Mothers are advised while pregnant to avoid some chemicals and toxins. These can affect both the women and the babies in their pregnant states,’’ he said.
Nwokwu further noted that diagnosis of childhood cancers were on the increase in Nigeria because there was more awareness, better capacity to handle it and reporting system.
He explained that there were more Paediatricians, who specialise in oncology than before resulting to early detection and treatment of the diseases.
“We also have cancer registration going on across the country, we are able to pick these cancers and document them.
“Unfortunately in Africa while we are drifting toward western world life style, we are also living with our infectious diseases, which all contribute to increase in number of cases of cancers,’’ the consultant said.
In addition, he said that the Federal Government was also paying more attention to cancers in the country, especially childhood cancers than before.
Nwokwu said the ministry had approved inclusion of 12 additional hospitals in “Cancer Access Partnership” (CAP) Programme to improve access to chemotherapy at over 50 per cent cost reduction.
The consultant said the Federal Government had also increased the number of hospitals offering the service from seven in 2020 to 18 hospitals.
“The CAP programme has also the formulation of chemotherapy products from nine products 20 products.
“The consultant said children cancers are giving attention in all the CAP centres and in those expanded products and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) will be supporting the treatment.
“Graciously, CHAI has opted to provide specialised supportive care for childhood cancers and they are piloting it in four hospitals.
“The hospitals are University Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, National Hospital Abuja and University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada.
“CHAI will also support to increase Childhood Cancer registration and how to support their improvement in the management of childhood cancers.
“There is a special attention now on childhood cancers because we are seeing more cases because of better diagnoses and better registration activities,’’ he said.