Get to know the warning signs this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Parents and caregivers urged to be vigilant for potential signs of childhood cancer

Tuesday, September 25 2018

Being aware of the more common signs associated with childhood cancer is important for parents and caregivers of children, even though the notion of children being affected with cancer is something no one likes to contemplate.

“While the incidence of childhood cancers are relatively rare, the Cancer Association of South Africa [CANSA] estimates that between 800 and 1 000 children are diagnosed each year in this country,” says Dr Tanya Schickerling, a paediatrician sub-specialising in oncology and haematology, who practises at Netcare Clinton Hospital in Alberton.

Pic: The team from Netcare Clinton Hospital’s paediatric unit created a display to commemorate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month for September. Pictured are (left to right) Bridging Course 1 student, Rovona Kok; acting paediatric unit manager at Netcare Clinton Hospital, Sr Lavern Volmink; paediatrician, Dr Tanya Schickerling; enrolled nurse auxiliary, Selina Mahlalela; and Bridging Course 2 students, Pearly Nombela and Lugisa Ndou.

“Tragically, many more cases go undiagnosed and untreated, and we are urging the public to learn more about the warning signs, so that our nation’s children can be diagnosed and receive the required treatment as early as possible.”

Dr Schickerling, who also works with the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), says that a set of simple guidelines for detection of possible indications of cancer among children has been developed to assist parents and caregivers.

“To help make it easier for people who are not trained in paediatric oncology, an acronym has been created to remember the warning signs of childhood cancer. The acronym is named after Saint Siluan, a Russian monk who prayed tirelessly for all humanity and who is traditionally remembered on 24 September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.”

The Saint Siluan warning signs of childhood cancer are as follows:

  • S – Seek medical attention early for persistent symptoms.
  • I – the phonetic reminder for ‘Eye-related symptoms including a white spot in the eye, the
  • development of a squint or visual impairment, or bulging of the eyeball.
  • L – Lump noticeable in the abdomen, pelvis, head, neck, limbs, testes or glands.
  • U – Unexplained symptoms of prolonged fever for more than two weeks, weight loss, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding.
  • A – Aching bones, joints, back or bones unusually susceptible to breaking.
  • N – Neurological signs, such as change or deterioration in walk, balance or speech, regression of developmental milestones, headache lasting more than a week and sometimes with vomiting, or enlargement of the head.

“These signs should not be ignored under any circumstances, and parents or caregivers who notice any of the above symptoms in a child should consult a medical professional as soon as possible,” Dr Schickerling emphasises.

Netcare Clinton and Netcare Unitas hospitals in Gauteng offer specialised paediatric oncology. Radiation therapy for paediatric cancer treatment is offered at Netcare Clinton, Netcare Olivedale, Netcare Milpark, Netcare Pinehaven, Netcare Unitas, in Gauteng, Netcare N1 City and Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial hospitals in Cape Town, as well as at Netcare Parklands and the Cancare Centre in KwaZulu-Natal. A number of Netcare hospitals provide chemotherapy for children. 

“While the prospect of a potential cancer diagnosis is frightening for anyone, it is imperative that adults do not turn a blind eye and simply hope that their child’s symptoms will resolve themselves. We urge parents to rather confront such signs with the support of a doctor, so that whatever may be the underlying cause can be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible – whether it is cancer or some other condition.”

The general manager of Netcare Clinton Hospital, Esme Abrahams, says that Dr Schickerling’s background in paediatric haematology and oncology is a welcome addition to the paediatric service offered by the hospital for the communities south of Johannesburg and further afield.

“Dr Schickerling’s rare combination of medical expertise in these fields is a valuable addition to our hospital, which is widely known for the specialised paediatric and cancer care services we provide.

“Bearing in mind that the most common type of cancer to affect children is leukaemia, which is a group of cancers affecting the blood and blood-forming tissues, families facing such a diagnosis for their child can turn to our facility for expertise, support and compassionate care. There has been considerable progress in treatments for such cancers, and this is significant cause for hope for the children affected and their loved ones.

“The range of advanced cancer treatments available at our hospital is informed by a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals who have a wealth of skills and experience in various medical specialities, and our paediatric nursing staff are sensitive to the particular needs of each individual child and their families,” Abrahams says.

Dr Schickerling encourages the public to show their support for families impacted by childhood cancer by wearing a gold ribbon as a symbol of solidarity during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“With greater awareness of the early warning signs of childhood cancer, we hope to be able to diagnose and treat children sooner, as this is an important factor in achieving more favourable clinical outcomes,” she concluded.


References and further reading

Issued by:           Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Clinton Hospital
Contact:               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016>
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]