Paediatric cancers are mostly managed by adult oncologists or self-trained paediatricians, except in a few centers. Even a fewer number of hospitals have dedicated beds for paediatric cancer patients, or facilities for platelet transfusion or bone-marrow transplant.
Apart from a lack of expert clinicians and facilities, trained oncology nurses and nutritionists to treat children with cancer, necessary services like immunophenotyping, cytogenetics, nuclear imaging, radiotherapy, blood components and morphine are very limited, experts say.
Paediatric oncology is neglected by far, in India. Many of the medical colleges still lack dedicated departments for paediatric oncology,” says Dr Muzammil Shaikh, a consultant medical oncologist at the PD Hinduja National Hospital Medical Research Centre in Mumbai.
Compared to the developed world, the cure rates for childhood cancers in India are abysmally low. One can put the figure to roughly to 30-40% in some centres.
The scenario has started changing slowly. Medical institutions now offer super specialty programmes in paediatric oncology, he adds.
Not all paediatric oncologists concur with Dr Muzammil’s view. Some of them maintain that survival rates are progressively improving in India too. The numbers cannot be as low, they say, preferring to put it around 60%. The 5-years survival rate is as good as 65-70% in specialised centres, which comes close to the 75% of the western standard and 90% in ALL.