Childhood Cancer Signs and Symptoms Explained by a Pediatrician

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Amy L. Pelletier, DO Amy L. Pelletier, DO View Profile
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Childhood cancers are rare, and there are no widely recommended screening tests to look for cancer in children who are not at increased risk, says Dr. Amy Pelletier, DO, Baystate Health Pediatrics. Due to the advances in cancer treatments over the last few decades, though, about 85 percent of children with cancer will survive five years and beyond.

“This is a significant increase in survival rate over the last 40 to 50 years,” says Dr. Pelletier.

While cancer in children is not common, Dr. Pelletier says it is important to have your child checked by their pediatrician if they have unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away.

Signs and Symptoms of Potential Childhood Cancer

  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Ongoing pain in one area of the body
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever
  • Illness that doesn’t go away after more than one week
  • Frequent headaches that wake a child in the middle of the night
  • Headaches associated with vomiting first thing in the morning
  • Sudden eye or vision changes

“As a general pediatrician, the symptoms above are recommended to have further evaluation,” says Dr. Pelletier. “Most of these symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something other than cancer, but never hesitate to call your pediatrician if your child has any of them.”

Dr. Pelletier explains that some children have a higher chance of developing a specific type of cancer because of certain changes in the genes they inherit from a parent. All children need regular wellness visits, but general pediatricians use their knowledge of pediatric medicine to assess whether there is a concern for childhood cancer in those patients who may genetically have a higher risk of developing cancer.

“Many cancers in children are found early, either by a child’s doctor or by parents or relatives,” says Dr. Pelletier. “Cancers in children can be hard to recognize right away because early symptoms are often like those caused by much more common illnesses. Children often get sick or have bumps or bruises, so that might mask the early signs of cancer.”

Dr. Pelletier says the best thing a parent or guardian can do is pay attention to out-of-the-ordinary signs or symptoms and let their pediatrician know about them.

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