September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and we are taking this opportunity to reinforce the importance of looking out for early signs. Cancer in children can happen at any age, Lymphoid Leukemia making up 22% of cases from birth to 14 years of age in the United States. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease in childhood. Reporting that approximately 16,000 children from birth to age 19 are diagnosed each year (2019.)
Cancers in children often are hard to recognize right away because the symptoms can overlap with much more common illnesses or injuries. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, check with your pediatrician so that the cause can be evaluated and treated if needed. Children with a higher risk of cancer due to family history may need regular medical check-ups that include special tests to look for early signs of cancer.
Can childhood cancers be found early?
Parents should be sure that their children have regular medical check-ups and watch for any unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away after two weeks of treatment with medicine (including antibiotics) prescribed by your pediatrician. Cancers in children may be found early, but are NOT common.
Possible Warning Signs
- An unusual lump or swelling
- Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
- Easy bruising
- Ongoing pain in one area of the body
- Unexplained fever or illness that doesn't go away
- Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
- Sudden eye or vision changes
- Sudden unexplained weight loss
Other symptoms may occur depending on the type of cancer. Keep in mind that many of these symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than cancer. It is important to always see a primary care pediatrician and find out the causes. A pediatrician can order special tests and refer to a specialist who can find out more.
What do I do if my child is diagnosed with Cancer?
The American Cancer Society provides information to help parents and loved ones of a child with cancer on how to cope and manage after a childhood cancer diagnosis. Families will need help on:
- How to cope with the news,
- help brothers and sisters understand their sibling's diagnosis,
- what to do if your child asks about dying,
- understanding the diagnosis,
- treatments and side effects,
- finding and paying for treatment,
- patient programs and services,
- end of life care,
- and many other questions families may have.
No one is ever prepared to hear that their child has cancer. Reactions can vary from shock, fear, anger, denial, and depression. It is important that caregivers seek help from family, health care providers, social workers, and support groups. You are NOT alone!
AAP Publication,"Look for red flags that raise index of suspicion for childhood cancer," Roger L. Berkow, MD, FAAP, September 11, 2019.
Childhood Cancer Connection Inc. (Galveston, TX), "Know the Warning Signs," reviewed September 7, 2021.
American Cancer Society, "Finding Cancer in Children," October 14, 2019.
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