Parents urged to look for symptoms of cancer in children
Parents and guardians are being urged to pay close attention to small children in order to identify any abnormality which could be a sign of childhood cancer.
Paediatric haematologist/oncologist at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Dr Sharon McLean-Salmon, said that childhood cancers are most commonly seen among the three to five age group, noting that some children are born with cancers.
"At that age, they are just forming their language so they rely on adults (doctors, parents, caregivers and teachers) to express on their behalf that something is wrong," she pointed out.
Dr McLean-Salmon noted that the most common cancer seen in children is leukaemia, accounting for approximately one third of all cases in Jamaica. This is followed by cancer of the central nervous system (brain or spine), and cancer of the kidney.
"We look at the zero to 14 age group and our peak is in the three- to five-year-olds in the same order - leukaemia, brain tumours then kidney tumours," she told JIS News.
She said the signs to look out for include continued, unexplained weight loss; loss of appetite; night fevers (night sweats); excessive bleeding, such as when brushing the teeth; bleeding under the skin; small bloodshot spots on the skin; and easy bruising, where mild trauma results in large purple or black and blue spots on the skin.
Dr McLean-Salmon noted further that headache associated with early, morning vomiting or that awakens children from their sleep should not be ignored.
"Whereas no headache is normal, these are the headaches that give red flags and should alert the physician to check for a growth in the brain," she explained. She said that parents should also be on the lookout for increased swelling of body parts such as the abdomen, noting that these swellings are often not painful.
Dr McLean-Salmon said in most cases, swelling of the abdomen is attributed to constipation or worms; however, there is the possibility that it might be a growth on the kidney or in the abdomen.
"If you see changes in your child that you can't explain, you should get the assistance of a doctor. Go to the nearest health centre, hospital or doctor and have it checked," she advised.
Jamaica is observing Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September and focus is being placed on raising awareness among citizens about the symptoms and signs of these diseases.