Childhood Cancer: Health expert dispels myths and taboos, shares important facts | Health - Hindustan Times

Childhood Cancer: Health expert dispels myths and taboos, shares important facts you should know

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Sep 18, 2023 08:30 PM IST

Is cancer contagious? Cancers in children are inherited from parents? Is the curability of childhood cancers very low? Health expert busts myths, shares facts

The word “CANCER” can send chills down the spine, the moment it’s uttered and when cancer affects a child, it is almost unexpected and unacceptable, often assumed to be a myth however, it is high time that we address this issue with facts, so that all of us in the society can contribute to achieving better survival rates for childhood cancers. We should participate in supporting these children morally, socially, medically and financially to dispel all the myths and taboos surrounding this term.

Childhood Cancer: Health expert dispels myths and taboos, shares important facts you should know (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)
Childhood Cancer: Health expert dispels myths and taboos, shares important facts you should know (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Prerna Nesargi, Consultant Pediatric Hemato-Oncologist and BMT Physician at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital in Bengaluru, shared, “Yes, it's TRUE that cancers in children are very rare but they are the most common cause of non-infectious mortality in children. In India, which is densely populated, it contributes to 26% of the global burden. While this translates to significant numbers, it varies geographically in different types. The present data is taken from cancer registries across the nation, which barely represents the tip of the iceberg. Despite having such significant numbers, people are often unaware, leading to delayed medical attention. This can influence the chances of better treatment, survival, and increased spread/complications that can significantly compromise the outcomes.”

Revealing that children, including newborns, are at risk compared to adults who have a host of environmental and lifestyle risk factors for developing cancer, Dr Prerna Nesargi said, “In children, it’s primarily a genetic disease. However, only less than 2-5% is inherited, meaning the disease was inherited from parents. Nonetheless, a small proportion is influenced by environmental factors such as exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, ionizing radiation and certain viral infections. Childhood cancers are generally very aggressive compared to those in adults. They are managed in a multimodal manner, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. They are highly chemo-sensitive, giving them an advantage over adult cancers in terms of curability and a second chance at normalcy. In fact, some forms of childhood cancer stand a chance of 95% cure rates (as per Western data; we in India are not far behind). However, these children do need support- medically, socially, financially and nutritionally.”

Asserting that they require tender loving care to achieve optimal outcomes, Dr Prerna Nesargi suggested, “This is only possible when more people are aware, from parents to teachers, siblings to friends. Overall, childhood cancers can readily be detected and treated in India. Efforts are being made to make treatments very affordable over time, thanks to indigenous efforts by our medical and scientific community. This makes detection and treatment affordable and accessible to larger sections of society. Therefore, let’s pledge to work towards being supportive of this cause and to raise awareness.”

Dr Prerna Nesargi dispelled common myths and taboos and highlighted important facts about childhood cancer that you should know -


1. Cancer is contagious

No, it doesn’t spread to others like some infections; you can definitely hug them.

2. Cancers in children are inherited from their parents.

Only 2-5%of childhood cancers are inherited from the family. Parents should stop feeling guilty.

3. Curability is very low in childhood cancer.

No, compared to adults, success / cure rates are awesome, almost 90-95% in many forms.

4. Cancer survivors don't require any additional treatment.

Follow-up care is a must for healthy living.

5. Tumors are all malignant.

No, both benign tumors requiring minimal care exist.

6. Never tell children directly that they have cancer.

No, warriors need to be prepared and cooperate to fight the battle. Honesty is the best policy.

7. Children with cancer will never have normal lives.

No, there are many survivors amongst us who are living life to the fullest.

8. Hair loss in children due to chemotherapy is permanent

No, nothing is permanent, and the same applies to hair. Be assured of lustrous hair post-therapy

9. Childhood cancer brings down their immunity forever

Not Completely, they regain normal immunity 4 to 6 months after completing treatment

10. Childhood cancer survivors have fertility issues and cannot reproduce

NO, THEY CAN LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER AND HAVE A LOVELY FAMILY OF THEIR OWN. This will be discussed in detail before therapy starts.

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