Girl children who are affected by cancer are more likely to be taken off treatments by their parents, revealed a study done by pediatric oncology department of Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH).
Of the 1,222 cancer-affected children registered for treatment at TMH in 2011, 64 children dropped out. TMH identified five factors that contribute to dropouts. One of the most important factors was the fact that the sick child was a girl. At TMH, the male-female ratio of children being treated is 3:1, which means that girls form only 25% of the child patients. But 43.8% (28 of the 64 children) who dropped out of treatment were girls.
Other factors included: cancer-affected child aged less than five years (45.3%), paternal illiteracy, maternal illiteracy, and low socio-economic status.
Authored by voluntary social worker Shalini Jatia, the study was presented by the pediatric oncology department of TMH in the International Society of Pediatric Oncology in London.
“Many girl children are not brought to the hospital for treatment in the first place. Parents wonder who will marry their daughter after treatment. They also worry about reduced fertility of the girl once she grows up,” said Dr Shripad Banavali, head of medical and pediatric oncology, TMH. But more than 70% of cancer cases in children are curable, unlike adults.
Dr Banavali recalls the case of an infant diagnosed with eye cancer for which eye removal was advised. “The child’s father who was a doctor opted for alternative treatment. The child eventually died as the cancer had spread. If a qualified doctor refuses treatment for his daughter, what will be the case in rural areas,” she said. The population registry maintained by Indian Cancer Society in Mumbai states that the male-female ratio of children suffering from cancer is 1.3:1. But as the data from TMH shows, fewer girls are brought for treatment. In the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), the male-female ratio of children being treated is even lower at 5:1.