Concerted efforts give child cancer patients new hope

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-18

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Late discovery

Qin Bo, director of the widely acclaimed television documentary series focusing on the workings of Chinese hospitals, cited the example of a young patient from a rural area of Jiangyin city, Jiangsu, who had a bone tumor.

He said the parents of the 11-year-old girl are migrant workers in cities. The patient told her grandparents she was experiencing pain in her legs, but they said this was normal at the start of puberty.

Months later, the girl was taken to village- and county-level hospitals, but doctors did not find any problem. Her parents eventually returned home to take her to a hospital in Shanghai after she could no longer bear the pain.

Qin said, "Unfortunately, she had to finally undergo amputation, but doctors said if they had seen the patient six months earlier, they would have had more treatment options, rather than let her pay such a heavy price for saving her life."

At least 10,000 cases of bone cancer in child patients are reported in China annually, with experts saying many are at a late stage when discovered, due largely to a lack of attention from families and doctors.

Wang Jinhu, deputy director of oncology surgery at the Children's Hospital Affiliated with Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, said, "Generally, pediatric tumors are rare, and some doctors in poorer regions may not hear of such a case during their entire careers, let alone encounter or treat such a patient.

"Therefore, our prioritized targets that need to be informed of pediatric tumors are frontline doctors, who will help parents obtain appropriate information about treatment and medication."

Li Zhizhong, secretary-general of the Shenzhen Shiyu Children Foundation and founder of Sunflower Children, an affiliated welfare project dedicated to child tumor patients, said scientific disease education is key to improving the level of diagnosis and treatment of pediatric tumors.

"We hope that through popularizing professional, reliable, timely and comprehensive scientific information, we can help end confusion and fear for every family experiencing such a plight," he said.

Dong Kuiran, director of oncology surgery at the Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, said more patients with pediatric tumors are cured than adults with cancer.

"We don't use a five-year survival rate as a benchmark for children who have tumors-although this is the most common one for adult cancer. We set our sights much farther than five years for young patients," he said.

Li said that in past years, the foundation has collaborated with the China Anti-Cancer Association on compiling information about some types of cancer and related therapies and drugs. The two organizations have also won support from search engines for correct related information to be given priority when users search for it online.

Experts said many government agencies have jointly established programs to detect signs of tumors in early screening among children.

"The peak age for a pediatric tumor occurring is 3, but as children that young cannot express themselves clearly, an efficient and economical tool for extensive screening is needed," Wang said.

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