Palliative care – an appropriate response to childhood cancer

Micheline Etkin, ICPCN's Ambassador, with 13 year old Humberto Mercado at Cardon Children's Medical Center. Humberto has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and has been at the centre since October 2014

Micheline Etkin, ICPCN’s Global Ambassador, with 13 year old Humberto Mercado at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. Humberto has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and has been at the centre since October 2014. Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Hall of John Hall Photography
















Sunday 15 February 2015 is International Childhood Cancer Day. Marked in calendars around the world, this day serves to remind us that cancer affects people of all ages and, without exception, dramatically changes the lives of all affected children, their families and loved ones.

Describing this life changing event, Tamsyn Kiely, a mother of a child with a cancer diagnosis says, “The day you get told your child has cancer is the most unnatural day of any parents life. The days that follow are surreal and just as unnatural as the day your baby got diagnosed. From that day forward, nothing is the same, your life and the life of your children is changed forever, because from that day forward you share your life with cancer.”

The ICPCN believes that children and families faced with a cancer diagnosis should be provided with the very best care possible and should never have to walk this difficult journey alone. They must be provided with the support of people who fully comprehend the challenges they will face and are trained to do everything possible to ease the burden of the disease on the affected children and those who love them.

However, through ignorance and lack of education, there are still critical gaps in the palliative care response to children with cancer. Too many medical professionals hold on to the mythical belief that palliative care is only appropriate when all curative measures have failed, leading to patients and families missing out on the comprehensive, coordinated and compassionate care that a palliative care team provides, irrespective of the outcome of the treatment.

Commenting on the importance of recognising the need for palliative care for children with cancer, Joan Marston, CEO of the ICPCN says, “Children with cancer remain children and deserve the best possible quality of life while living with their condition. Palliative care, available from the time of diagnosis, through an holistic approach to care of the child and family, can help to control pain and other distressing symptoms – physical, emotional and spiritual, and help the child live as well as possible, as long as possible.”

Overcoming stigma
Effective pain control is an area of expertise within paediatric palliative care and ICPCN believes that children with cancer should be provided with the best possible treatment to ensure that their pain and distressing symptoms are addressed. Childhood Cancer International cites barriers to effective pain relief in children with cancer which include the stigma that still exists with prescribing, dispensing and using opiates for children. They call for a concerted effort to be made to overcome the stigma that is associated with the use of opioids in the treatment of pain in children and add that the lack of pain relief medications in paediatric formulations needs to be addressed.


On this International Children’s Cancer Day, ICPCN calls upon health authorities around the world to recognise the value of palliative care in the treatment of children and ask that children’s palliative care be integrated into all public health systems, that specific policies on children’s pallaitive care be developed, funds allocated and relevant training provided.

Click here to learn more about International Childhood Cancer Day

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