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Childhood Cancer Series: Signs and Symptoms

For the second installment of the Childhood Cancer Series, we will learn why early detection is vital and dive into the signs and symptoms to look out for. The first part of this series, Treatment Advancements, discussed childhood cancer and the exciting new treatment options available.

While reading about early diagnosis and the signs and symptoms, remember that childhood cancer is rare. These symptoms can be caused by an illness not related to cancer, but in any case, if these symptoms persist, take your child for a checkup. Dr. John van Doorninck, a Pediatric Hematologist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, is back and explaining the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. 

Early Detection
When dealing with several diseases and illnesses, early detection is crucial. For childhood cancer, it is also vital to detect it as early as possible for several reasons, including it improves survival rates and there tends to be less aggressive treatment options.

“When identified early, cancer is more likely to respond to effective treatment and result in a greater probability of survival, less suffering, and often less expensive and less intensive treatment,” states the World Health Organization (WHO). “Significant improvements can be made in the lives of children with cancer by detecting cancer early and avoiding delays in care.”

Additionally, early diagnosis gives families more time to prepare emotionally and psychologically for the challenges of cancer treatment. It allows for the development of a comprehensive support system, including access to counseling, peer support, and community resources. 

Late-stage cancer often presents with more complications and may have spread to other parts of the body. Early diagnosis of childhood cancer not only increases the chances of a successful outcome but also minimizes the physical and emotional impact on the children and their families. 

Signs to Look for
It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer in order to get an early diagnosis. While these symptoms can be concerning, it’s important to remember that many childhood ailments are not cancer-related. Yet, when in doubt, it’s always better to consult a healthcare professional. 

Relentless Growing: Cancer is defined as uncontrolled cell growth. 

When your child or even you get sick, sometimes your throat can become swollen because your body is trying to fight off whatever is making you sick. This is normal. 

“The lymph node, for example, is expected to get bigger and smaller in the process of doing its job (fighting infection),” Dr. van Doorninck explains. “But if something is growing relentlessly, and getting relentlessly bigger, then that’s a sign that those cells are doing their own thing, and they should be checked out.”

Bone Pain: Growing Pains are a common pediatric problem because children grow so quickly, but if the pain is keeping a child up at night, consider taking them to the primary care doctor. 

“Bone cancers and also certain Leukemias can affect the bones,” Dr. van Doorninck says. “If the pain is keeping a child awake at night, especially if there’s a mass or a growth associated with it, you should get that checked out.”

Enlarged Belly: If your child’s belly is getting very large and firm for unknown reasons, take them for a check-up. This will typically be associated with pain in the abdomen, and the swelling and pain will not go away. 

Pale and Bruising: If your child is unusually pale and has unexplainable bruising, this should prompt medical attention. 

Headache & Vomiting: If a headache is keeping your child awake at night and associated with vomiting or specific neurologic changes, take them to a doctor. 

Childhood cancer is a challenging journey, not just for the young patients but also for their families and communities. By staying informed and advocating for early diagnosis and comprehensive care, we can make a difference in the lives of these young warriors and their families. 

The third installment of the Childhood Cancer Series will discuss why low- to middle-income countries’ survival rates are drastically different from high-income countries and how organizations in the U.S. are trying to change that.

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