Dr Saeeda Al Marzouqi Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Medical experts in Abu Dhabi on Thursday encouraged parents to have their children medically screened for signs of cancer, highlighting how an early detection of the disease could significantly aid with the treatment.

While most cancer patients are usually adults, young children are not immune to the disease, said doctors at the Sixth International Oncology Conference, who advised parents to educate themselves on the subject to ensure their child’s health.

“Having an early diagnosis for a child with cancer can lead to a better outcome for the patient. One thing that we can all do as physicians, nurses, teachers, parents and anyone who deals with children is to be educated on the alarming signs and symptoms of any [cancer] malignancies,” said Dr Saeeda Al Marzooqi, a histopathologist at Tawam Hospital.

“Parents should make use of the opportunities when their children visit health care institutions, so during a vaccination visit or during a normal hospital visit for a common ailment they can have an examination of their child, this is something they shouldn’t ignore,” she added.

Dr Al Marzooqi also said that some types of cancer are linked to certain genetic mutations, and so it was vital for medical institutions to be properly trained on noticing such genetic mutations and taking the necessary medical precautions.

“In cases of genetic mutations associated with certain types of tumours, when a hospital finds this out they should send these patients for a mutation analysis and to have them medically screened to check for any [cancer] malignancies.”

Dr Al Marzooqi said that investing in a national research programme specifically for genetic mutations linked to cancer was something that should be considered.

“We need to establish a good paediatric cancer predisposition programme. And since these tumours [associated with genetic mutations] are very rare it is better to invest in one national programme that covers the entire population, this will make it more worthwhile in terms of expertise and financial expenditure instead of diverting resources among different centres.

“Many countries are starting to invest more in childhood malignancies, there is a move towards this to offer better treatment,” she added.

Dr Zainul Aabideen, paediatric haematologist and oncologist at Burjeel Hospital, said the mortality rates among children with cancer was going down thanks to advances in medicine, making it all the more important for parents to have their children diagnosed early.

“The outcome of childhood cancers has improved significantly over the last few decades. And so having an early diagnosis can improve the outcome for the patient.”

Dr Aabideen said that raising awareness among parents for screening their children for cancer was crucial, and pointed to successful awareness programmes carried out in other countries that led to a reduction in delayed diagnosis.

Tips for parents

- Have their children medically screened to always be on the safe side

- Read up on most common types of cancer in young children. The internet has several medical websites solely dedicated on the subject of children with cancer. 

- Learn about the symptoms associated with the most common types of cancer for children. For example when it comes to brain tumours headaches are one of the main symptoms. If parents notice their child with prolonged headaches that go on for weeks or months they should take their child to see the doctor.