What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Childhood Cancer?

Childhood cancers are very rare; in fact, they make up less than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed annually. Therefore, there are not any regular screening tests, unless a child has an increased risk due to genetic predisposition. We’re taking a look at some of the common childhood cancer symptoms, and when parents should seek advice from a doctor.

If you have any concerns about childhood cancer symptoms, please consult your child's doctor.

If you have any concerns about childhood cancer symptoms, please consult your child’s doctor.

The symptoms of childhood cancer can be difficult to recognize because they often mimic those of typical childhood illnesses, such as the common cold.

“Parents should only be concerned when symptoms persist, when they are getting worse, or if they seem out of proportion to what one would consider a typical childhood illness,” says Kimberly Davies, MD, a physician with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “Any parent who is worried should talk with their pediatrician, who has expertise recognizing what is within the normal range of symptoms, and what isn’t.”

Common symptoms of childhood cancer can include:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent headaches
  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Sudden eye or vision changes

The most common childhood cancers are leukemia, brain tumors and other solid tumors, so symptoms may depend on the type of cancer, Davies says.

If a pediatrician suspects cancer, he/she may conduct blood tests or imaging tests, such as x-rays or ultrasounds. If there is an abnormal lump or tumor, the doctor may order a biopsy of the tissue to look for cancer cells.

If tests show a child has cancer, children and their parents are referred to an oncologist, who will be able to run further tests and provide more information about the diagnosis. Oncologists will look at blood tests, biopsies, radiology scans and evaluate organ and heart function before deciding on a treatment plan.

“An oncologist will be able to give a better picture of the diagnosis and hopefully alleviate some of the fears and concerns parents and children may have,” Davies says. “It’s important to recognize that we successfully treat 80 percent of childhood cancers.”

More information about childhood cancer treatment and diagnosis.

Make An Appointment

For adults: 877-960-1562

Quick access: Appointments as soon as the next day for new adult patients

For children: 888-733-4662

Latest Tweets

Dana-Farber @danafarber
What Are The Stages of Breast Cancer? https://t.co/Wx6XNOOdqi https://t.co/nfyfQmjgqm
Dana-Farber @danafarber
How does #genetics play a role in pediatric #leukemia? Most young patients develop leukemia because of a mutation,… https://t.co/yC6c1zXcAp
Dana-Farber @danafarber
After being told that she had 6 months to live, metastatic #breastcancer patient Sayde Patel transferred her care t… https://t.co/TrrBM6dyil

Patient and Family Blogs

Patients and families of patients at Dana-Farber often chronicle their own experiences with cancer.

Here are some blogs that you can follow.