Diagnosing Childhood Cancer: Being Proactive Saves Lives

What are some of the signs of childhood cancer?

Although childhood cancer take the lives of more children than any other disease, the funds allocated for research into all types of childhood cancers represent only 4 percent of U.S. federal cancer research funding. Awful as this statistic is (or should be) to the general public, it is beyond heartbreaking to those whose families have been personally touched by the illness. In the United States alone, each year 15,780 children under the age of 19 are diagnosed with cancer. Because a number of childhood cancers have much better survival rates when diagnosed in their early stages, it is important for parents and pediatricians to be aware of early signs of a possible problem.

Doctors generally assume that a child’s symptoms have common causes and may, therefore, overlook or misdiagnose childhood cancer. For this reason, it is imperative that parents, who know their own child better than anyone else, trust their own instincts and press for further testing if they feel convinced that their child’s symptoms are indicative of a more serious disorder. One parent reports that her child was pronounced fit and healthy by his pediatrician 3 days before being diagnosed with leukemia in a hospital setting.

If your child is diagnosed with a childhood cancer, the outlook is, in many cases, much less dire than it was only decades ago. Also, there are far more resources, educational, financial, and emotionally supportive than there used to be. For the sake of your child and your family, you should contact one or more of the wonderful organizations created to offer concrete help and meaningful comfort to help you all through this challenging and painful time.

Symptoms to Watch For

In addition to taking your child for regular medical check-ups, it is important to be aware of symptoms that may require further investigation and to press your child’s doctor if you don’t feel that appropriate attention is being paid.

While many of the following symptoms may have benign causes, they should all be taken seriously and checked out thoroughly:

  • Abrupt vision changes
  • Headaches, often with early morning vomiting
  • Limping
  • Lingering pain in one area of the body
  • Loss of energy
  • Pale complexion
  • Persistent fever, nausea, or malaise, often accompanied by vomiting
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Tendency to bruise easily
  • Unusual swelling, especially at the neck, abdomen, chest, pelvis, or armpits
  • Whitish color behind the pupil

In order to rule out childhood cancer as a potential cause of your child’s symptoms, tests may have to be administered, such as imaging tests (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans), blood tests, and/or a biopsy of a nodule or lump. If your doctor seems not to be taking your concerns seriously, it is always wise to get a second opinion. Where your child’s life may be at stake, it is absolutely necessary to be persistent.

Genetic Predispositions to Certain Types of Cancer

In some cases, there may be a family history that puts your child at elevated risk of developing cancer. Such genetic factors should always be discussed with your child’s pediatrician so he or she can monitor the situation more closely.

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