20 to 30 childhood cancer cases per year

New Zealand High Commission fi rst secretary Christine Conway, middle with garland, who was the chief guest, with children and their families and medical personal during the launch of WOWS Kids Fiji’s monthly appeal at the Tanoa Plaza in Suva. Picture: FILE/ATU RASEA

There are between 20 and 30 child cancer cases diagnosed in Fiji every year, says Dr Savenaca Seduadua – a general pediatrician who specialises in pediatric oncology (childhood cancer).

He works in the Oncology Unit of the Pediatric Department at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, a special unit dedicated to children suffering from cancer.

“The most common childhood cancers I’ve come across in Fiji are leukaemia and lymphoma,” he said.

“There are various types of cancers that usually affect children that I’ve seen, namely leukaemia, lymphoma which is cancer of the lymph nodes, brain cancers, kidney cancers – particularly Wilms’ tumour, certain liver cancers and eye cancer.

“These are the common childhood cancers we also see globally.”

Dr Seduadua said the overall remission rate for childhood cancer in Fiji had improved over the years.

“In the last research done by pediatrician Dr Losalini Leweniqila in 2019, the remission rate for specifical leukaemia which she was focusing on, was around 84 per cent and survival rate was 49 per cent.

“This has really improved from when we first started treating children with cancer – in fact, it has probably doubled.”

Dr Seduadua added that working with children diagnosed with cancer was sometimes rewarding.

“You just feel appreciated, not only by the kids, but by their parents as well.” He said the challenges faced in oncology were mostly to do with patients whose cancers could not be treated.

“No treatment that we give is 100 per cent.

“In certain situations, we’ve had to stop treatment because we’d find it’s not working for the child or it’s harming the child rather than the child benefiting from it.

“Those situations where we’d have to sit with parents and tell them that we will be stopping treatment and that there’s nothing more that we can offer, except palliative care, and that really affects us as health care workers, apart from the families.”

He added that parents’ prematurely abandoning treatment for their child was another challenge they faced.

“They would know that the treatment we are giving their child is working, however, they’d stop chemotherapy altogether and this is mainly caused by the information they’d hear from outside.

“Some of them would come and tell us that there’s this particular traditional healer who has this herbal medicine that is specifically suited for what their child has.

“This can be pretty disappointing at times and a challenge, as we would have to talk to them and convince them that the treatment and chemotherapy is working.”

Dr Seduadua said detecting that parents were in a dilemma was one way of overcoming the abandonment of treatment.

“We do rounds every morning, so when that happens, we check up on not only the child but parents as well and overall on how things are going.

“Because treatment can be quite long, for example, a leukaemia treatment may take two years – so before they come to the conclusion that they wish to abandon treatment, we have counsellors talk to them or we talk to them ourselves.”

His advice to the public is to “take heed of the early warning signs” – childhood cancer was a little different from adult cancer in the sense that they were no screening tools to detect them before the cancer stage.

“For most childhood cancer, when we catch it early, we can treat it early and when we treat it early, the outcome and success rate is quite good.”

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