Child cancer cases double at hospital

Some 15 per cent of new referrals to Sha Tin centre have mainland parents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 3:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 3:36am

New childhood cancer cases referred to the Prince of Wales Hospital have doubled since 2009, partly due to an uptick in the city's population.

Some 10 to 15 per cent of new cases are children born to mainland parents, while the rest are local, said Dr Li Chi-kong, chief of service in the hospital's paediatrics department.

The Sha Tin public hospital received 88 new cases last year, up from 53 in 2012 and 46 in 2009. More than half were cases of leukaemia or brain tumour.

Li, who also heads the hospital's Lady Pao Children's Cancer Centre, said the location of the Prince of Wales made it more convenient for mainland parents. But he reassured parents there were "adequate facilities for all local cases". The hospital handled 40 per cent of the city's 200 new child cancer cases last year.

A new children's hospital at Kai Tak, set to open in 2018, would centralise the city's paediatric oncology services and improve cost-effectiveness of treatments, Li said.

The hospital has managed to drive up the survival rate of child cancer patients from 70 per cent in 2003 to the current level of 80 per cent.

Employees at the city's largest paediatric oncology centre have won an award from the Hospital Authority to recognise this success.

"It is a team achievement. No one individual on this team knows everything there is to know," said Li, adding that the hospital's survival rate was among the world's highest.

Li hopes to raise the rate further to 85 or 90 per cent.

The centre's team - comprising paediatric and clinical oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, physiotherapists and nurses - provide round-the-clock care to children and their families. It houses 36 beds and one of two bone-marrow transplant units in Hong Kong.

Dr Wong Kwok-chuen, of the orthopaedics and traumatology department, said part of the team's success was because it can use the best medical technology to deal with cases such as osteosarcoma - a common form of bone cancer in children.

"We can now use 3-D imaging … to customise prosthetic [joints] so that they fit to the bone. With better fit, bone growth will be much better," Wong said.

The team's work does not stop after treatment. For families of dying children, nurse Molin Lin Kwok-yin is there to accompany them to the very end.

"Many of these parents find it hard to accept and they are angry," said Lin, the honorary nursing officer responsible for palliative and end-of-life care. "We try to help them through the ordeal."

Her team aims to provide comfortable treatment for terminally ill children including transferring care from the ward to their own homes. The hospital provides equipment to parents including portable analgesia, air mattresses and oxygen as well as training in their use.

"The purpose is to reduce their time in the hospital and let them go home to spend time at a place they are familiar with. Our job is to provide them with the most comfortable care for a peaceful passing."