How to Recognize the Signs of Pediatric Cancer

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Fortunately, the incidence of cancer in children is pretty rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about 17.8 cases of cancer for every 100,000 children under the age of 15. Even though it is uncommon, a diagnosis of pediatric cancer is devastating news for a family. The key to reducing the deadly impact of this type of cancer is to avoid the risk factors and to catch it early by recognizing the signs.

Common Types of Pediatric Cancers

According to the American Cancer Society, the following are the most common childhood cancers:

  • Leukemia
  • Brain and spinal cord tumors
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Wilms tumor
  • Lymphoma (including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma) 

Risk Factors

The three main categories of risk factors for pediatric cancers are microbial, environmental, and genetic.

Microbial risk factors include types of viruses and bacteria that can lead to certain forms of cancer. It might sound strange, but a healthy person has an entire ecosystem of microbes inside the body called a microbiome. A healthy microbiome has a mixture of helpful microbes and some hurtful ones, and in a healthy person, the bad microbes are kept in check. In some cases, the bad microbes (pathogens) can lead to cancers, such as a bacterium in our tummies that can lead to stomach cancers.

Environmental risk factors for cancer include exposure to things like ultraviolet radiation (sunlight), asbestos, and chemicals we introduce to our own bodies through bad habits, such as poor diet, cigarette smoking, and alcohol, among others. Many of these environmental risk factors are avoidable. Some, like exposure to lead or asbestos, are only avoidable if you know your child has been exposed. Because environmental risk factors typically require a long time of exposure, many of them are more common to adults.

Genetic risk factors are the most common source of pediatric cancers. In this situation, the parents, whether they have ever had cancer or not, pass on the risk for cancer to their child in their genetic code.

How to Identify Signs of Pediatric Cancer

The Pediatric Oncology Resource Center has a handy memorization trick for parents to help them remember the signs of cancer in children. It’s based on the words CHILD CANCER.

  • Continued, unexplained weight loss
  • Headaches, often with early-morning vomiting
  • Increased swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints, back, or legs
  • Lump or mass, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits
  • Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash
  • Constant infections
  • whitish color behind the pupil
  • Nausea that persists or vomiting without nausea
  • Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness
  • Eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and persist
  • Recurrent or persistent fevers of unknown origin.

The Doctor’s Role in Pediatric Cancer

If you suspect any of these symptoms above, talk to your child’s doctor and ask for an examination. It’s important to ensure you and your pediatrician have a complete record of your child’s medical history and symptoms. Be sure to inform your doctor of your family’s medical history, including any cancers in siblings, the parents, grandparents, and the extended family. The doctor might perform tests, such as an x-ray, or take a tissue sample (called a biopsy) if there is potential evidence of cancer.

With children, the signs of cancer will look like the symptoms of many other ailments. Because pediatric cancers are rare, the symptoms can be easily missed or misdiagnosed. As with any cancer, the earlier you identify it, the better the chances for a healthy outcome.

If you suspect a cancer diagnosis was missed or delayed, you should contact a legal professional, specializing in medical malpractice, immediately. They can help get you get the facts regarding the handling of your diagnosis, and if the standard of care was not met, they can get you the financial support you need for the road ahead. For a free consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.

Baby laying on a hospital bed
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