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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Top 5 Childhood Cancers

September 16, 2023 Pegalis Law Group

Recognizing the Warning Signs of the Top 5 Childhood Cancers

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 10,000 U.S. children are diagnosed with cancer each year. While childhood cancer is rare, it remains the leading cause of disease-related death in adolescents globally. September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to focus on issues affecting childhood cancer patients and their families by raising awareness, funding, and support. This year’s theme is understanding the long-term impacts on childhood cancer survivors.

The types of cancer that children develop are different from adults. When detected early and treated at a children’s cancer center, hospital, or unit specializing in kids’ care, childhood cancer patients generally have a better outlook for survival. However, many childhood cancers can be challenging to diagnose when everyday bumps, bruises, or illnesses mask their warning signs. Below, Pegalis Law Group, LLC examines five leading childhood cancers, including their symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.

1. Childhood Leukemia

The most common cancer among children and teens is childhood leukemia, a cancer affecting the body’s white blood cells. Abnormal white blood cells form in the body’s bone marrow and travel throughout the bloodstream, which increases your chances of infection and other complications. Symptoms of childhood leukemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Infections
  • Fever
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Headaches or abnormal vision
  • Seizures
  • Balance issues

Childhood leukemia is diagnosed through physical exams, blood tests measuring the body’s number of blood cells, biopsies (usually taken from the pelvic bone), and spinal taps checking for the spread of leukemia cells in the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Treatment varies by leukemia type, but the survival rates for childhood leukemia have increased in recent years. Children are often able to tolerate cancer treatments better than adults.

2. Brain & Spinal Cord Tumors

Childhood brain and spinal cord tumors are caused by abnormal cells forming in brain or spinal cord tissue. Warning signs and symptoms will vary but may include any of the following:

  • Morning headaches
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Issues with vision, hearing, or speech
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty walking
  • Seizures
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in personality, behavior, or activity level
  • Issues with urination or bowel movements
  • Back pain radiating down arms and legs
  • Weakness in legs

Physical and neurological exams are used to diagnose brain and spinal cord tumors. An MRI may be ordered to get a clearer picture of the organs, or a biopsy may be ordered to get a tissue sample. Serum tumor marker tests are also used to examine the blood for certain substances linked to specific cancers. Depending on the type, location, and the child’s age, tumors are often removed through surgery.

3. Lymphomas

Lymphoma is the general term for any cancer affecting the lymphatic system, which maintains the body’s fluid levels and immune responses. Lymphomas are caused by malignant changes in the body’s B-cells and T-cells, which help us make antibodies and fight off viruses. Over time, tumors can develop, and the body’s immune system can no longer function properly. Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Recurrent fevers
  • Excessive night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Itching or rashes
  • Bowel changes

During a physical exam, your child’s doctor may look and feel for signs of swelling in the glands in the neck, armpits, or groin. Blood samples may be ordered to see how well the liver and kidneys function. A biopsy involving a tissue or lymph node sample may confirm the diagnosis. Childhood lymphoma treatment involves chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but the prognosis is typically good.

4. Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a malignant tumor that usually begins in the adrenal glands above the kidneys, but it can also begin in the neck, chest, or pelvis nerve tissues. The tumor can spread quickly to other areas of the body, and this type of childhood cancer is often present at birth. Most diagnoses occur before the child reaches the age of five, but sometimes it is detected before birth by means of an abnormality seen on fetal ultrasound. Neuroblastoma symptoms may include:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Swelling or bruising around the eyes
  • Uncontrolled eye movement
  • Pain, limping, or weakness
  • Extreme bruising
  • Changes in urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure or heart rate

Neuroblastoma is diagnosed through blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, or MRIs, CT scans, and bone scans providing a clearer image of bone abnormalities. Depending on the child’s age, overall health, and extent of the disease, treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, blood and marrow transplants, and surgery. Prognosis is based on many factors, but low-risk patients in stages 1 or 2 have a 90%+ survival rate.

5. Malignant Bone Tumors (Osteosarcoma)

Malignant bone tumors can develop at any age, but they’re typically seen in older children and teens undergoing growth spurts. Osteosarcoma is the most common, found near the ends of growing arm and leg bones. A less common type is Ewing sarcoma, usually found along the pelvic or hip bones, the chest, or the legs. Symptoms of a malignant bone tumor may include:

  • Pain, stiffness, or tenderness
  • Swelling around the affected bone
  • Difficulty walking or limping
  • Weakened bones
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Difficulty sleeping

X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans are frequently used to diagnose malignant bone tumors. Blood tests and needle biopsies may be used to confirm diagnosis. Treatments vary from chemotherapy to surgery. Early detection and aggressive therapy usually result in the best prognosis, but it will vary greatly by child.

Focused on Raising Public Awareness for 50+ Years

Pegalis Law Group, LLC is a New York-based personal injury and medical malpractice law firm with 50+ years of experience. We’re dedicated to increasing public awareness about various healthcare-related topics to create more proactive patients. Please visit our website and follow us on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for additional insights about being proactive about your family’s healthcare.