With financial assistance, nutritional support and mental health counselling, the number of children who abandoned their cancer treatment at Parel’s Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) declined drastically from 25% to 5% between 2009 and 2015. But, the quest to achieve a zero dropout rate — especially for girls — is a tough one, said doctors from the hospital on Saturday.
The initial findings of a study conducted by doctors at the hospital’s paediatric department has suggested that gender bias, lack of belief that cancer can be cured and pursuit of alternative treatments are reasons why parents of children with cancer fail to complete the treatment schedule.
“We have had families in the past where parents have refused treatment for their daughters fearing that it may later affect marriage proposals,” said Shalini Jatia, secretary of ImPaCCT Foundation that aims works at improving cancer care for paediatric patients at TMH. Jatia said that many parents do not understand that lack of treatment could result in their children’s death.
She said that motivating parents in such cases turns out to be a challenge. “We have a strong tracking mechanism. If there are parents who have refused treatment for their children, we reach out to them in every possible way. Sometimes after we repeatedly offer financial help, they agree to continue with the treatment,” she added.
Dr Sripad Banavali, head of medical and paediatric oncology said that girls with retinoblastoma — a rare form of cancer that affects the eye — often miss out on the treatment. “Retinoblastoma is 95% curable, but requires an eye removal surgery and leads to vision loss. But once the surgery is conducted, the patient is cured.” he said.
“Parents fear that no one will marry their daughters and so discontinue the treatment. Later, the disease spreads to other parts of the body and it becomes with impossible to cure it,” he added.
The hospital sees nearly 2,000 new paediatric cases each year. Doctors said that dropout rates are highest within the first week of the treatment. “On an average, the treatment lasts for a year. In the first week, the parents get overwhelmed with the cost and the treatment procedures and choose to not go ahead with it,” Dr Banavali said.