By: Mary-Jane Staba Hogan, MD, MPH, FAAP
Childhood and adolescent cancers are rare, and early symptoms may seem like everyday bumps, bruises, and infections. Unlike common childhood illnesses and injuries, however, cancer symptoms don't get better on their own. Depending on where the cancer cells gather in the body, a child with cancer will show some symptoms that typically get worse over time.
Examples of concerning symptoms to talk with your child's doctor about:
an unusual mass or swelling
unexplained paleness or worsening rash
loss of energy for no obvious reason
unusual behavior or movements
a sudden tendency to bruise or bleed easily
lasting pain in any part of the body
unexplained fever that doesn't go away
frequent headaches, often with vomiting
sudden eye or vision changes
unexpected, rapid weight loss
Keep in mind that a single symptom by itself is less likely to be a sign of childhood cancer. Children who receive a cancer diagnosis usually have many different combinations of symptoms at the same time.
What to do if your child has some of these symptoms
If your child has a combination of these symptoms, or any symptoms that don't go away and seem to get worse, contact your pediatrician for a thorough evaluation. Depending on the doctor's findings, blood tests or imaging studies may be helpful. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a
pediatric hematology oncology to test for and possibly diagnose cancer.
Regular check-ups with the pediatrician help keep your child healthy. They also help to ensure any suspicious symptom of childhood cancers are evaluated and treated promptly. Don't hesitate to talk with your pediatrician about any ongoing or worsening symptoms your child is having.
About Dr. Hogan
Mary-Jane Staba Hogan, MD, MPH, FAAP, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale School of Medicine, Pediatric Hematology Oncology section. She contributes educational commentary about cancer and blood disorders as the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hematology and Ongology education committee chairperson, Benign Hematology and Cancer survivorship policy review committees, and for the editorial boards of AAP Grand Rounds, Pediatrics, and PREP Self Assessment publications.