Jaw cancer on the rise in Uganda

Young child with cancer of the jaw

Young child with cancer of the jaw

Burkitt lymphoma, commonly known as cancer of the jaw is one of the leading cancer infections among children in Uganda, according to statistics from Uganda Cancer Institute.

Dr.Fadhail Geriga, a child health cancer specialist at the Uganda Cancer Institute says the institute has registered more than 150 cases in the last two years. He says the disease affects children between the ages of three -13 years.

The disease is a malignant tumor associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that is endemic to central parts of Africa and New Guinea.

The EBV virus is linked to lymphomas (immune system cancers) and nasopharyngeal cancers in humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr.FadhailGeriga says that a fast-growing tumor often develops in the jaw or intestines that can interfere with breathing and make it difficult for young patients to feed adequately leading to malnutrition.

If detected at its early stages, Dr.Geriga says the cancer can be treated and cured completely. Dr.Geriga says children from eastern Uganda are more affected mainly due to lack of a treatment center and hygiene challenges. He blames the death of several victims of the disease on the failure by parents to seek medical attention as soon as a lump is detected in the mouth or abdomen.

“The biggest challenge is that most parents take children with this condition to dentists thinking it is a dental problem, which is not the case. By the time they realize its cancer, more likely it has spread to the other parts of the body like the brain, bone marrow, lungs and liver, says Dr Geriga.

It is against this back ground that government has embarked on the construction of a Lyphoma Treatment Center at Mulago National Referral hospital to ease service delivery for the affected children.

The other childhood cancers are leukemia (blood cell cancers) and cancers of the brain and central nervous system, accounting for at least 30-40 per cent of the cases registered at Uganda Cancer Institute.