Paediatrician Dr Gaitri Satram sheds light on childhood cancer

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Dr Gaitri Satram

Internationally, September is designated as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to shed light on the various forms of cancer children are diagnosed with as well as highlight the strides made in treating those cancers.

Guyanese Paediatrician Dr Gaitri Satram believes that the month brings much needed attention to the various cancers that children battle.

Dr Satram was born in Trinidad but raised in Georgetown. She attended St Agnes Primary then The Bishops’ High School before pursuing medical studies at the University of Guyana’s School of Medicine.

After completing her studies at UG, she moved to Jamaica where she worked for a number of years. There, she specialised in the field of paediatrics. Satram recently completed her Doctorate in Paediatric Medicine at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica before moving back to Guyana.

Here, she plans to develop her passion for child and adolescent advocacy and increase awareness among the Guyanese population on different aspects of child care.
Dr Satram recently shared her thoughts with the Sunday Magazine on the issue of childhood cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), each year around 400,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 0-19 years old are diagnosed with cancer. Local studies on childhood cancers in Guyana are limited but there are many children and adolescents living with cancer among us.

According to Satram, some of the common types of childhood cancers include:
• Leukaemia: cancer of the blood and bone marrow
• Brain tumours
• Lymphomas: Cancer of the lymphatics – a group of cells throughout the body that help your body fight off infections
• Solid tumours of the kidneys

She said that depending on the type of cancer a child may have, the presentation may differ. Highlighting some of the common indicators, Dr Satram said that children generally present with unexplained weight loss, anorexia, prolonged fever or chills but more specific symptoms include bone pain that can be particularly worse at nights, weakness, easy fatiguability, easy bruising to the skin and frequent infections.

Those with brain tumours may present with headaches that wake them up from their sleep, early morning vomiting, seizures or gradual changes in personality or behaviour. She explained that it is important to remember that any of these symptoms may be associated with other benign health conditions children may temporarily have.

“Having one or a few of these symptoms does not always necessarily point to cancer but if the concern is there, it should be addressed. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to always have their child appropriately evaluated. In fact, at their visits to their paediatrician, a thorough physical examination should always be done and one of the reasons is to ensure there are no findings suggestive of cancer.

No one knows what causes cancer in children. Cancer is not caused by anything a parent did or did not do. But there are certain risk factors that increases the likelihood of a particular child having cancer. Some of these include: a strong family history of cancer, certain medical conditions a child may have, exposure to prolonged radiation and environmental toxins,” Dr Satram explained.

Sometimes cancer can also occur in children with no identifiable risk factor. Treatment varies depending on the type of cancer a child may have. For instance, some may need surgery and radiation while others require chemotherapy.

Dr Satram said in Guyana, unfortunately, treatment is available for only a few types of cancers but added that with time, better resources and a greater focus on child care this can definitely improve. She explained that the journey to treatment, in any part of the world, is a challenging one for both the patient and the caregivers. It can be painful, frustrating and almost always takes a toll on everyone involved physically, financially and emotionally.

“It is imperative that these families be surrounded by a network of support and encouragement. Most importantly, in between treatment the child’s health and wellbeing should be fully optimised. As difficult as it can be, a child having cancer is not a death sentence. Timely diagnosis and prompt treatment can improve the prognosis tremendously. Children can live with cancer and enjoy life as any other child. They can travel, engage in sports and they can excel at school. But for them to enjoy life fully and optimally it is important that red flags are raised and addressed early, a timely diagnosis is made and appropriate intervention begun swiftly.”

She urged parents to ensure their children get routine check-ups and build a healthy rapport with their healthcare provider and if the suspicion is there be sure to raise it with their doctor.

“As we continue through September let us think of those children and their families who have already begun their cancer journey. Let us remember them in our prayers and in whatever miniscule way, offer them support and love.”