In South Africa up to half of children are misdiagnosed or never diagnosed with cancer, largely due to a lack of knowledge about the symptoms of childhood cancer, early detection could be saving many more lives. CANSA’s Tough Living with Cancer (TLC) Programme is key to supporting better survival rates as they focus on “raising awareness of cancers affecting children & teens and the importance of early detection”.
While their programmes and support centres provide essential support for youth & families affected by cancer, they have a particular focus on teen cancer survivors. “Based on the most recent statistics available, Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma remain two of the leading cancers among teens (10 to 19 years). This accounts for nearly a quarter of all the cancers affecting teens with a five-year survival rate of 79% in South Africa.” Due to an under-representation of adolescents in the National Cancer Registry and the South African Children’s Cancer Registry, absolute figures are unknown, save to say they are higher than what is currently reflected.
There are various factors that lower the survival rates, two of which are HIV infection and advanced stage of disease due to lack of early detection.
CANSA funded researcher ,Dr Jennifer Geel says, “A diagnosis of cancer is devastating for anyone, but teens are also coming to terms with rapidly changing life circumstances (puberty, high school, post school education, entry into the workplace, relationships, individuating from their parents, becoming adult members of society, etc.) and a diagnosis of cancer puts everything on hold. They struggle to manage themselves while their lives are threatened. There are high rates of depression among teen patients, but it’s often undiagnosed.”
Dr Geel adds, “Hodgkin-Lymphoma is a highly treatable cancer that affects adolescents and young adults, however, the survival for HIV positive patients, drops to approximately 45%. Nutrition is a major factor in whether a patient survives or not. Patients who present earlier do better.”
Cara Noble CANSA National TLC Manager addresses the challenges of teenagers with cancer and their treatment needs in her article The Missing Middle – Being a Teen with Cancer in SA wherein she states that “In South Africa, teenagers with cancer, despite being lower in numbers compared to childhood cancers affecting children under 12 years old, have become the ‘missing middle’. The middle that the health system does not cater for specifically as they are too old for paediatric oncology and technically too young to be in adult oncology, often surrounded by adults triple their age. We need to look clearly into how are we handling these teenagers with cancer. Are we doing enough to support them through their treatment process? There is so much confusion on how they should be coping. Are they allowed to cry with pain as their eight-year old neighbours do? Or does being 14 years old mean that this child’s transition into adulthood has come at the cost of feeling pain and expressing how they feel so as to not ‘be a nuisance’ to those adults around them?”
There is a definitive necessity in supporting teen cancer as the ‘missing middle’ and the need to inform the public about the warning signs of childhood cancer, driving early diagnosis“to ensure that children are referred to Paediatric Oncology Specialists for treatment”. Myths surrounding childhood cancer also need to be debunked to ensure that children are referred to specialists without delay.
CANSA TLC has a holistic approach encompassing all aspects of physical, spiritual, psychological and social well-being for parents (guardians) and children & teens, through:
- sharing cancer related information
- offering support groups / counselling
- providing terminal & grief support
- prosthetic assistance (loss of an eye or limb)
- ports (broviacs) to minimise trauma
- medical equipment / wheelchairs
- educational school programmes
- skills development
- volunteer training
- providing accommodation for parents (guardians) near treatment centres
- providing food & basic essentials parcels to families in need
- Children and teens diagnosed with cancer or affected by cancer (a family member has cancer) are supported, as we believe no child or family should have to face cancer on their own.
This is one area of the incredible work that CANSA does to support South Africans. And just one of the reasons that Fit4Good is supporting CANSA in our inaugural events this May as we cycle and run for someone else’s health!
Fit4Good #1: Saturday, 4th May 2019 | Planet Fitness Plattekloof, Cape Town
Fit4Good #2: Saturday, 11th May 2019 | Planet Fitness Wanderers, Johannesburg
Support CANSA’s research by signing up a team to either cycle or run at a participating Planet Fitness Gym via our easy online registration and payment process.
Fit4Good fundraisers help CANSA fund the Tough Living with Cancer (TLC) Programme.