Unfortunately, despite being defined by the World Bank as a high-middle-income country, South Africa mirrors poor survival outcomes. “We reside in a divided landscape, with access to first-world standard of care healthcare and treatment reserved for those who can afford private medical care. Sadly, the vast majority of our population faces socio-economic and geographical barriers to accessing life-saving treatment,” explains Dr Johann Riedemann. a clinical and radiation oncologist with a special interest in childhood cancers.
Dr Riedemann is part of a national network of more than 150 private oncologists who under the Icon Oncology banner, are championing better access to quality cancer treatment for all South Africans. One of the ways in which they are achieving this is to invest in state-of-the-art technology which can be used to treat cancer.
In radiation oncology, specialist machines called linear accelerators (Linacs) are used to precision-target tumours, destroy cancer cells and limit unwanted toxicity to normal cells. Icon Oncology recently installed a new Linac at the Cape Gate Oncology Unit where Dr Riedemann and his colleagues from Cancercare work to treat cancer patients – including children who previously had to travel great distancesto receive treatment in Cape Town. Relieving this geographical barrier is a blessing to both parent and child amidst the challenge of cancer.
Dr Riedemann explains that early detection and treatment for childhood cancers are important: “If detected early, many children can be treated successfully. Research shows that the sooner a child is diagnosed the better the outcome for the patient. Parents can equip themselves with knowing the warning signs of childhood cancers and when to consult a doctor if these symptoms persist,” says Dr Riedemann.
Warning signs parents should be concerned about:
Cancer in children is not common, but it is important to have your child checked by a doctor if they have unusual signs or symptoms that persist:
Step 1: General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor
If you are concerned about any persistent symptoms, or if your child is not responding to over-the-counter medication, make an appointment with your GP. Children are not mini-adults and if your GP finds reason for concern, they will refer you to a paediatrician.
Step 2: Paediatrician (a medical practitioner specialising in children and their diseases)
Paediatricians are trained to identify cancer symptoms and will arrange for tests and scans to diagnose a potential cancer. They will also reach out to other specialists which will become your child’s care team in case of a cancer diagnosis.
“In oncology multi-disciplinary teams work together to diagnose and treat our cancer patients. This means that your child will have a team of highly specialised doctors and supporting practitioners who will design a treatment plan which is tailored to the particular cancer and your child,” explains Dr Riedemann.
What if you do not have medical aid?
There are also other resources and organisations who help parents of children with cancer. This includes arranging access to treatment, practical support such as transport and accommodation as well as emotional/psycho-spiritual support including counselling and psychosocial services.