Childhood cancer is on the increase in Ghana with only two out of ten children with cancer surviving in the country.
Mr Dennis Ocansey, the Programme Manager of the Non-Communicable Disease Control Programme (NCD) at the Korle-bu Teaching hospital has indicated that childhood cancers have increased in the country over the years.
He said the country has in recent years been recording close to 1,000 childhood cancers annually among children below fifteen years.
Speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA), Mr Ocansey said the causes of many of these childhood cancers were largely unknown but resulted from the genetic predisposition of some patients, environmental factors such as radiation, pesticides and some drugs which increase the risk of developing cancer.
“Common cancers among children nowadays are Lymphomas-cancer of the lymphoid tissues, leukaemia cancer of the blood cells, Retinoblastoma-cancer of the eye, Nephroblastoma-cancer of the kidney, cancers of muscle or bone in different parts of the body as well as brain cancers,” he said.
It is reported that some viruses such as Hepatitis B and C viruses, EB and HIV are also counted as being associated with cancer in children.
Mr Ocansey said all the above including some tumours such as Wilms Tumour also contribute in various degrees to the 1000 childhood cancers recorded each year.
Programme Coordinator of World Child Cancer-Ghana George Achempim says even though the increasing trend is worrying, it also means more children with cancer are getting access to treatment.
“About 1,000 children are estimated to develop cancer in Ghana every year but most parents do not send their children to the hospital for treatment, thus, the country records less than 300 cases. This means that about 700 and more children with cancer go without treatment”.
Globally, cancer is overtaking infectious diseases, as the leading cause of disease-related mortality in children and adolescents, with 250,000 children being infected by cancer annually.
In Ghana, out of the 1,000 children below 15 years that are affected by cancer annually, only 300 cases are reported to the two paediatric cancer units at KBTH and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi.
This is due to accessibility challenges involving costs of treatment, lack of affordable accommodation for guardians and their affected children as well as difficulty in transporting sick children to and from the hospitals. Mr Ocansey believed that a meaningful reduction of the current situation could be achieved if the Ministry of Health, Civil Society organisations and some NGOS could collaborate with the hospitals to fund the treatment of childhood cancers through the NHIS with the provision of drugs and other necessities.
He also recommended that the related authorities create awareness through educational programmes on the rising cases of cancer among children, and for the public, particularly mothers, to take precautionary measures to avoid the occurrence of cancers among their children.
Professor Lorna Awo Renner, Head of Paediatric Oncology Unit, Korle-Bu Hospital said although Ghana had been successful in reducing childhood diseases, especially under age five mortality, through effective control of infectious diseases, childhood cancers continue to affect many children who get little or no treatment at all.
She explained that when diagnosed early enough and treated with the appropriate protocols, over 75% of childhood cancers could be cured and the survivors would then have 50- 60 more productive years to live.
She said as little as GHS 2,500.00 could be used to buy drugs to treat a child with cancer in Ghana, while as much as GHS 20,000.00 could be spent for a period of 3 years’ treatment for a child with Leukaemia.