It can be difficult to detect cancer in children and with it being rare, many parents will not think to look out for the symptoms of it. Symptoms we check for as adults, such as lumps and bumps, coughs, abnormal bleeding etc may not be the same as we would expect to see in childhood cancer. It is worth understanding what some of the symptoms are though, so you know when to see your GP to get it checked out. Many of the symptoms may be caused by other illnesses or diseases though, so it is best not to panic but to make sure that it is checked.
The Pediatric Oncology Resource Center has an Acronym which makes it easier to remember what the symptoms are that should be checked out:
Continued, unexplained weight loss
Headaches, often with early morning vomiting
Increased swelling or persistent pain in the 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, frequent or persistent infections
A whitish colour 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
With there being so many different types of childhood cancer, then not all of these symptoms will be trues of all types. However, if you are worried about any symptoms, whether they are on this list or not, then it is worth talking to your doctor.
There are some other symptoms that could be worth looking out for and discussing with your GP as well. These are very decreased activity, loss of appetite, easy bleeding. Bruising or rash that looks like red pinpoints, rapid visual changes, enlarged spleen or liver and weight loss.
Weight loss is really important as it is rare for children to lose significant amounts of weight over a long period. Weight does fluctuate, as it does in adults but if a child loses a lot of weight then it is an indication that they could be unwell.
If they have vomiting that lasts more than a week and is worse in the morning this could be a sign of a brain tumour, particularly if they have headaches as well. They could also get seizures, have trouble walking and even show personality changes. Bone and muscle pain may be a symptom too which can sometimes be put down to growing pains. Growing pains can be eased by massage or a warm bath and usually occur at night. Pain that occurs more frequently, especially if it is in a specific place could be a sign of a tumour. Coughing or problems breathing could also be a sign of childhood cancer, but may be caused by asthma, but this can be eased by medication. An enlarged mass particularly in the arms, legs, neck or abdomen could be a sign of a tumour.
It is worth checking for any signs that they are unwell, as most parents would anyway. However, be persistent with your doctor and if you feel symptoms are not improving after you have seen them or been given treatment return to them or see another doctor. This is because childhood cancer is very rare and so the symptoms are not always easy to recognise. However, try not to panic or worry that your child may have cancer as the fact that it is so rare, means that the chances of the symptoms being due to cancer is small.