Common Childhood Cancers in Zimbabwe

Breast Cancer Awareness

Children can get cancer in the same parts of the body as adults, but there are differences. Childhood cancers can occur suddenly, without early symptoms, and have a high rate of cure. The most common children's cancer is leukemia. Other cancers that affect children include brain tumors, lymphoma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Symptoms and treatment depend on the cancer type and how advanced it is. Treatment may include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.


Cancer in Children

  • Definition

    Cancer in children is rare and overall, 80 percent of childhood cancer cases can be successfully treated. However, in Zimbabwe many children continue to die from childhood cancers due to late diagnosis, HIV and Aids pandemic and poor health standards. To raise the survival rate of children suffering with cancer in Zimbabwe, parents, medical staff in clinics and hospitals must be alert to the early signs of children’s cancer.

More Insight

  • Cancer is a group of diseases which is caused by abnormal growth of body cells. Cells are the basic unit of life, the building blocks of body organs and tissue. Under normal circumstances cells divide and multiply in a controlled orderly manner for growth, to repair worn out and injured tissues as the body needs them to keep healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells. However, sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and they continue to multiply without control forming a mass or tumour. These growths are considered either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

    Childhood cancers are mostly those of the white blood cells (leukemia), brain, bone, and the lymphatic system (lymphoma). Each type of childhood cancer behaves differently, but all develop because of an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. According to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry 151 Childhood cancer cases (0-14 years) were recorded in 2006. Most of them, 89, were boys and 62 were girls. According to a report by Kidzcan, a leading organization working on childhood cancers in Zimbabwe, they assisted 260 children with cancers between 2009 and 2011. Out of the 260 children, 13% presented with Wilms Tumor, 10% Kaposi Sarcoma, 9% Retinoblastoma 7%, Brain Tumour and 7% had Lymphomas.

    The causes of childhood cancers are largely unknown. A few conditions, such as Down syndrome, other specific chromosomal and genetic abnormalities, and ionizing radiation exposures, explain a small percentage of cases. According to the National Cancer Institute (2012), a number of studies are examining suspected or possible risk factors for childhood cancers, including early-life exposures to infectious agents; parental, fetal, or childhood exposures to environmental toxins such as pesticides, solvents, or other household chemicals; parental occupational exposures to radiation or chemicals; parental medical conditions during pregnancy or before conception; maternal diet during pregnancy; early postnatal feeding patterns and diet; and maternal reproductive history. Researchers are also studying the risks associated with maternal exposures to oral contraceptives, fertility drugs, and other medications; familial and genetic susceptibility; and risk associated with exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

    • High levels of ionizing radiation from accidents or from radiotherapy have been linked with increased risk of some childhood cancers
    • Children with cancer treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be at increased risk for developing a second primary cancer
    • Children with AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), like adults with AIDS, have an increased risk of developing certain cancers, predominantly non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma
    • Certain genetic syndromes (e.g. neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Gorlin syndrome) have been linked to an increased risk of specific childhood cancers
    • Children with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing leukemia
    • Pesticides have been suspected to be involved in the development of certain forms of childhood cancer
    • Increased risks have been related to the father’s smoking habits
    • Ultrasound use during pregnancy has NOT been linked with childhood cancer in numerous large studies
    • Residential magnetic field exposure from power lines has NOT been significantly associated with childhood leukemias

Early Detection

  • A diagnosis of cancer in a child or young adult can stir up many emotions and bring about quite a few changes to the family. There’s a lot to cope with, countless questions to ask and many decisions to be made. It’s common for both the parents and their child to feel that life has spun out of control. This can happen when you don’t feel you have all the information you need to make decisions. Gathering information and talking about cancer can help you and your family feel more in control and more involved. Knowing what to expect can often help put things in perspective and help you and your child make decisions.

Common Signs of Childhood Cancers:

    • Enlarged head
    • Lumps (abnormal lump or lumps on the body)
    • Swelling (Unusual swelling or abnormal mass)
    • Listleness (A high temperature that won’t come down, sudden weight loss, poor appetite)
    • Pallor (A pale face especially if accompanied by listleness, a high temperature or unexplained bruising)
    • Changes in the eye or vision (White spot in the pupil, sudden squinting, bulging eyeball, blindness)
    • Unexplained bruising or bleeding (Persistent bleeding or development of purple marks indicating bleeding beneath the skin)
    • Difficulty balancing
    • Headaches (Often and with early morning vomiting)
    • Personality change (Change in behaviour or development)
    • Aching bones (Aching bones, joints or back, or fractures that happen easily))
  • Treatment

    • Even when treatment for childhood cancer yields positive results, young patients and their families must reckon with significant changes to their bodies and their lifestyles. Even after cancer has been successfully treated, many patients and families struggle with emotional issues. Although these feelings are normal, a mental health professional should be consulted if they are severe or persist. Eating properly and enjoying physical exercise provide many important health benefits to childhood cancer survivors. After successful treatment for childhood cancer, talk with your medical provider to develop a healthy eating plan and an exercise program tailored toward your child’s individual needs.

    • Basic Guidelines for Health and Nutrition

      • Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
      • Eat high-fiber foods such as whole grain breads, rice and cereals
      • Avoid high-fat foods such as French fries, potato chips and pizza
      • Choose low-fat dairy products and meats (such as chicken and fish)
      • Exercise until one is tired, but not in pain
      • Select enjoyable exercises, such as group sports or “fun” activities
      • Include warm-up and cool-down activities
      • Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least 5 days per week


      Although the most common cancers in Zimbabwe present with these signs, the signs can also be a result of other diseases or conditions. When you detect any of these signs seek medical assistance as soon as possible. When the signs persist after treatment, report back to the health facility for further investigations as soon as possible. Early diagnosis, leading to early treatment of cancer gives the greatest chance of success. Cancer can be prevented. It can be cured if diagnosed and treated early.

      For more information: Visit the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe at 60 Livingstone Ave, Harare Tel. 707444 / 705522 / or your nearest health facility.