Cancers in children are curable if detected early— Prof Renner

BY: Rebecca Kwei
Prof. Lorna Awo Renner

The Head of the Paediatric Oncology Unit of the Department of Child Health at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Prof. Lorna Awo Renner, has appealed to parents to report any ‘abnormal’ sign(s) in children to the hospital to help detect cancers in children early.

She noted that when cancers in children were detected early, they could be treated.


Prof. Renner said some of the warning signs for childhood cancers parents and guardians could look out for were a white spot in the eye, new squint or bulge in the eyeball, unusual lump or swelling anywhere in the body especially the jaw, neck, stomach or limbs; fever for more than two weeks, weight loss and bleeding or tiredness.

Others are persistent joint, bone or back pain, frequent headaches, vomiting or unsteady walking.

Prof. Renner said childhood cancers could be cured if presented early, adding that the commonest childhood cancers were the most curable.

However, she said about 50 per cent of cases were reported late to hospitals when there was nothing much that could be done to save the situation, resulting in deaths.

Some of the common childhood cancers are lymphoma, leukemia (cancer of the blood), eye cancer and kidney cancer.

Asked what the causes of childhood cancers are, Prof Renner said very little was known about the causes but some could be attributed to environmental factors such as excessive radiation, excessive use of pesticides while less than five per cent of childhood cancers could be attributed directly to genetics.

She said there was the need for more awareness among the public and health workers about childhood cancers in order to prevent late presentation of cases.

In furtherance to this, she said the unit organised a walk in Accra on the theme: “Act now for children with cancer: Better access to care in September.’’

Prof. Renner pointed out that with early detection and provision of adequate treatment, children with cancers could be saved.

However, she said there were only two treatment centres - the Korle Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals in the country.

She stressed the need to train more doctors and nurses in order to open up other regional centres so children with cancer can have treatment close to their communities.

Currently, she said most parents had to travel with their children from very far locations to Korle Bu to seek treatment resulting in a problem of accommodation during the period of treatment because such parents have to stay with their kids.

The unit, she said, had acquired a piece of land to develop into a hostel for parents and children to stay during the time of treatment but due to lack of funds, the project had not taken off.

She, therefore, appealed to benevolent organisations to come to their aid to help build the hostel.

When asked about drugs for cancer patients, she said they must be made available and affordable but none of the drugs used for childhood cancers were provided for in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Interestingly, she said some of the drugs used for breast cancer, which were covered by the NHIS, were also used to treat childhood cancers such as lymphoma “but we can’t use them because childhood cancer is not covered and you can’t say a child has breast cancer so the family of the patient has to purchase it”.