Around 70% of children who are diagnosed with cancer each year in India are malnourished, according to paediatric oncologists, reducing the chances of a cure. In addition, 50% of the remaining children who are not malnourished become malnourished because of the drugs and cancer treatment procedures such as radiation and chemotherapy.
Observing National Nutrition Week, (September 1-7) paediatric oncologists at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) said nutrition assumes high priority when it comes to treating childhood cancer and that it is the fourth arm of treatment in addition to radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
According to experts at TMH, which is among the world’s biggest centres for paediatric cancer, every year approximately 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer across India.
TMH gets 2,000 cases every year. However, of the estimated cases in India only 20%-30% actually reach a hospital and get treatment.
“The incidence of cancer among children is on the rise and population based registries across the country show that only around one fourth of the estimated paediatric cancers receive some kind of treatment. Add to that the severity of malnutrition which makes the outcome statistically poorer,” said Dr Brisjesh Arora, paediatric oncologist.
TMH is the only centre of its kind in the world that has adopted a holistic approach to treating children with cancer by also taking care of the nutritional needs of patients. The hospital is aided by a host of NGOs and donors and charities in this regard, which has made it possible to provide complete nutrition solutions for children afflicted with cancer. “If the chance of recovery in childhood cancer is 80%, then lack of nutrition reduces this chance to a mere 25%,” said Dr Arora.
In 2013, the hospital, along with the NGO Cuddles Foundation started providing nutritional support to underprivileged children fighting cancer. “With the help of donors, we provide not just children but also families with a meal. Severely malnourished children are given a therapeutic canned meal,’’ said the foundation’s Purnota Dutta Bahl, adding that 9,000 children have been helped so far.