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Symptoms of Childhood Cancers

Most patients, young or old, go through periods of extreme fatigue as the body expends extra energy healing itself from the cancer and the side effects of treatment.

Most childhood cancer symptoms are nonspecific and can mimic normal childhood illnesses.

The malignant cells also interfere with the process of metabolism, depriving their healthy counterparts of essential nutrients leading to loss of appetite and general malaise. Compounding matters, during treatment, patients often see their appetites wane. Now add to this the countless other reasons why a young child with cancer might feel exhausted: anemia, inadequately controlled pain, not to mention the wearing effect from the daily stress of coping with a life-threatening illness.

Symptoms of Pediatric Cancers

Acute Leukemias

  • Fever, chills, appetite loss, aching bones or joints, swollen lymph nodes, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, pale complexion and other symptoms of anemia, unexplained bleeding, bruising and other symptoms of a blood-clotting disorder, bone pain, joint pain, a swollen abdomen due to enlargement of the spleen and liver.
  • Occasionally leukemia may present with neurologic symptoms such as headache, seizures or weakness.

Hodgkin's Disease and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

  • Persistent fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, appetite loss, itching, painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, distended stomach, from swelling of lymphoid tissue in the abdomen, constipation or urinary retention, from swelling of lymphoid tissue near the intestines or the kidneys, coughing or shortness of breath, from lymph node mass in chest.

Brain Cancers

  • Symptoms depend on the tumor's location within the brain—and increased pressure within the skull: dizziness, seizures, changes in behavior and personality, memory loss, confusion, gradual weakness or paralysis, impaired vision, hearing, speech, smell, balance, motor skills, persistent headaches, morning vomiting and blurred vision.

Sarcomas of the Soft Tissues and Bones

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: Painless mass or swelling, tumors located in the abdomen or pelvis can cause vomiting, pain and constipation.
  • Osteosarcoma and Ewing's Sarcoma: Bone pain, swelling, a palpable mass, chest pain or cough if mass in chest.

Additional Information:


Last Updated
Section on Hematology/Oncology (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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