Childhood cancer is a common concern among parents, especially if their children have been sick for more than 5 to 7 days without a convincing explanation. Some conclude that their child may have cancer. Unfortunately, parents often don't tell their pediatrician about this, who can usually quickly convince them that their child most likely does not have any type of cancer.
Although there are many different types of cancer in children, the risk of developing cancer in any child is quite low, and cancer is considered a rare disease in children. Overall, there are only about 150 childhood cancers for every million children in the United States. However, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in children, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms of cancer in children.
Common types of cancer in children
The types of cancers that children are most likely to experience include:
- Leukemia : the most common type of cancer in children.
- Brain tumors: the second most common form of cancer in children
- Lymphoma : For example, Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- Neuroblastoma : the most common solid tumor outside the brain in children.
- Bone tumors: including Ewing's sarcoma and osteosarcoma.
- Retinoblastoma : inflammation of the eye that is usually found by examining a red reflex in a child's eye.
- Wilma's tumor: A kidney tumor that most often affects young children between the ages of 2 and 4.
Symptoms of this cancer are sometimes easy to recognize, such as a large abdominal mass in a child with Wilma's tumor.
Some other symptoms of cancer in children can include fever, frequent infections, bone pain, night sweats, vomiting and headaches, which are common in children when they have more common and less serious viral infections or other common childhood problems .
So how do you know if your child has one of these cancers?
In general, you need to think about the degree of symptoms (how severe they are), how long they last, and whether they continue to get worse over time. For example, while you shouldn't think your child has cancer every time they have a fever, if the temperature lasts longer than 14 days and you and your healthcare providers don't know why, then a complete blood count (CBC with differential) is for cancer detection and other tests.
Other examples of symptoms that may indicate childhood cancer include:
- Vomiting that lasts more than 7 days and worsens when the child wakes up in the morning, wakes up at night, or is accompanied by a headache. For children with common headaches, a warning sign that it could be something more serious than a simple migraine is if the headaches continue to get worse over time, becoming more severe or more frequent. Brain tumors can also cause other neurological symptoms, such as trouble walking, seizures, or sudden personality changes.
- Bone or muscle pain that is not the result of a known injury and does not go away after a few weeks. These types of pain are different from the common “ growing pains '' children experience at night, which generally do not cause pain in certain areas, are relieved with massage, do not restrict your child's activity, and tend to be chronic (occurring from time to time over the course of months or years). Remember also that chronic back pain is not very common in young children and can be a sign of a spinal cord tumor.
- Persistent cough or shortness of breath that does not respond to conventional remedies for infections or asthma.
- Increasing mass in the abdomen, neck, arms or legs.
Other common symptoms that may alert you that your child may have cancer include severely decreased activity, loss of appetite, easy bleeding, bruising or pinpoint red rashes (petechiae), rapid visual changes, an enlarged liver or spleen, or weight loss … Weight loss is a great sign that something serious could be going on, since children generally do not lose weight for a long period of time. Children may lose a pound or two due to an acute illness like the flu or stomach virus, but they need to get it back quickly. What about swollen glands (lymphadenopathy)? This is one of the most common problems that parents worry about: a lymph node or a gland that is going nowhere. However, in young children, swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck, is so common that it is considered almost normal.
A swollen gland that doesn't go away after a few weeks can be a sign of cancer, but other symptoms can generally be expected, such as a prolonged fever or weight loss, or swollen glands in more than one part of the body (such as the neck and groin. ). However, even without other symptoms, a swollen gland can be a concern for older teens who are at risk for lymphoma.
However, visiting a pediatrician is a good idea if your child has a swollen gland that does not go away. Your healthcare provider can investigate other causes, including infections like cat scratch disease, and can perform a tuberculosis test, complete blood count, and chest X-ray to rule out more serious causes.
Talk to your pediatrician about cancer
Most importantly, regardless of your child's symptoms, tell your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child may have cancer. You may have cause for concern, or your healthcare provider can assure you that your child is not at risk, either through a good history and physical exam, or through multiple screening tests.