Paediatric oncologist sees a drop in childhood cancer referrals

Viruses like the coronavirus can easily mimic symptoms of childhood leukaemia and other similar symptoms.

Some symptoms of cancer in children can be similar to those of Covid-19 such as fatigue and shortness of breath, which is why parents and family members are strongly urged to immediately come forward as soon as they start noticing unexplained symptoms in children.

Amid the third wave, paediatric oncologist of Netcare Clinton Hospital Dr Tanya Schickerling has shared her concerns over the late referrals of childhood cancer patients.

This is after Schickerling and other oncologists have noted a rise in late referrals as the pandemic continues to take a toll.

Schickerling, who is passionate about childhood cancer, said the pandemic has directly harmed their referral basis on oncology.

“After peaks of Covid-19, children with stage four cancers come from everywhere. We are aware that parents are scared of taking children to general practitioners, thinking the symptoms are nothing to worry about. That is why early childhood cancer warning signs are important for parents,” she said.

She reiterated that although the new wave of the pandemic is quite scary, making people reluctant of moving around, parents must be vigilant of any unusual signs.

“Children can recover from the coronavirus, but with cancer, they will die if not treated. The majority of children do not get severe Covid-19 symptoms because the majority of them are asymptomatic carriers,” said Schickerling.

What to look out for

The significance of identifying childhood cancers is that majority of them can be cured, but if picked up late, Schickerling believes the outcome might be worse.

“I came from the government sector and there we repeatedly saw late referrals. Initially, I thought that delays are mostly in state patients. But then again when I came to the private sector, I realised the delays were everywhere.

Picking up cancer is so important. Children can be saved, and it’s needless for them to die from cancer because of a late referral,” she said.

She also told the RECORD signs of early childhood cancer are quite self-explanatory and can be found on the CHOC website.

“They should look out for eye symptoms, a lump that doesn’t go away, persisting fever and unexplained bruising. Children are not supposed to get headaches and they are not supposed to have backaches. A growing pain which doesn’t go away should also be checked out,” said Schickerling.

She also shared this information in an informative academic booklet that she wrote years ago titled Parents’ Guide for Children with Cancer.

Schickerling provides this booklet which focuses on childhood cancer to her clients. Should you be interested in the booklet, contact Isabel de Klerk on 011 869 1775.

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