By Hudson Kuteesa
Early testing and treatment of childhood cancers are key in the healing process of the children, Dr Alex Imanirakiza, a pediatric oncologist at Butaro Hospital has said.
Globally, it is estimated that pediatric cancer has an incidence of more than 175,000 per year, and a mortality rate of approximately 96,000 per year, according to the World Health Organisation.
In Butaro Hospital, Burera District, where the cancers are treated, 600 of the 4,000 cancer patients that the hospital is handling currently are children. These come from different parts of Rwanda and from other countries like DR Congo, Sierra Leone and Burundi.
According to Imanirakiza, the most common childhood cancers in Rwanda are leukemia, kidney cancer and nephroblastoma.
All these, he says, can be managed successfully if the patients are diagnosed early.
Imanirakiza says that it is important to know the signs and symptoms of the different cancers so that the parents are able to take fast steps to establish the situation of their children.
In an interview with the media last week at Butaro Hospital, Imanirakiza said that delay of patients to come for testing is a common challenge they face since patients come when the cancer has reached advanced stages where their chances of survival are reduced.
He advises the parents to look out for the signs of leukemia which can include: bleeding in nose and mouth, swelling of lymph nodes in arm pits and throat, having fevers and high temperatures for a long time, and joint pain.
He says leukemia is one of the most dangerous childhood cancers since its chemotherapy treatment takes up to two years and eight months.
According to Imanirakiza, between 65 to 80 per cent of children treated of leukemia at Butaro Hospital get cured.
About kidney cancer, he says up to 80 per cent of the cases of the children that come to the hospital recover. For this cancer, Imanirakiza says the treatment includes surgery and chemotherapy, and can be completed in just three months if it is not in advanced stages.
However, he says in advanced stages, it will not only need surgery and chemotherapy but radiotherapy too which can currently be done in Nairobi, Kenya.
Imanirakiza says kidney cancer is not painful except in its advanced stages and therefore parents cannot tell that the child has a problem. However, the commonest symptom is a swelling on the belly of a child. He advises that here, the parents should make sure that they go to the hospital to examine the child.
He says that delay in approaching the doctors makes the cancer to spread to other organs of the body posing a bigger threat to recovery.
On nephroblastoma, Imanirakiza says it is a cancer that occurs more in the children aged between eight and 10 years.
He says if the child is tested early, there are more chances of getting well. Between 70 and 80 per cent of the children with this type of cancer that get to Butaro Hospital get healed, he says.
He says the sign of this cancer is swollen lymph nodes in the throat.
"If the child's lymph nodes in the throat are longer than 1 centimetre, it is abnormal and we have to check him," he says.
Cancer is among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths.
Until this day, there are three known treatment options for cancer (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy). Radiotherapy is not yet adopted in Rwanda.