No ailment or symptom is too small when it comes to our children, especially when you consider that some of them may be subtle warning signs of cancer. Cancer signs in children can also be tricky sometimes.
Early detection could mean saving a child’s life and this begins with knowing the common signs of malignancy or the presence of cancer.
Cancer signs in children
Here are the cancer signs in children that you should not overlook.
1. Frequent nosebleeds
Children may get nosebleeds due to their thin blood vessels at the front portion of their nose, which will gradually thicken after puberty.
But if a child experiences frequent nosebleeds up to four or five times a month, this might be a red flag for cancer.
According to National University Hospital in Singapore, frequent and persistent nosebleeds are a symptom of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), which is the most common type of cancer seen in children.
2. Sores that don’t heal
Kids are active and may get the occasional cut here and there when playing sports or other vigorous activities.
But another symptom to watch out for are sores that don’t seem to heal and persist.
The sores can be on any part of the body which are difficult to heal, such as sores on the skin, penis, vagina, or oral cavity.
These should be dealt with promptly and should not be overlooked.
3. Enlarged lymph nodes
Painless, enlarged lymph nodes could be a sign of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Lymphoma is caused by tumours that start in the lymph glands and the symptoms include swelling in the neck, armpit, groin, chest and abdomen – all regions where the lymph glands are located.
Lymph nodes which are close to the surface of the body – such as on the sides of the neck, in the groin, armpits, or above the collar bone – can be easily seen or felt as lumps under the skin.
4. Unexplained weight loss
If a child is losing weight without trying or without any changes in diet or exercise, parents should definitely schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Children can lose weight if they are not consuming enough calories, or are burning more calories than usual, but when they start to lose a lot of weight quickly, it could be a sign of an underlying illness, including cancer, according to medical experts.
5. Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing is a serious symptom in children which warrants a visit to the doctor’s office or the emergency room.
Shortness of breath may be one of the cancer signs in children that you might overlook.
According to the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore, shortness of breath could be a sign of childhood leukaemia, which accounts for almost 40% of all childhood cancers in Singapore.
6. A mass
Another sign of cancer is the presence of a mass, usually in the abdomen or extremities.
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital states that swelling in the abdomen could be indicative of Wilms’ tumour, a kidney cancer that occurs in very young children.
7. Unexplained changes in behaviour
Pay attention if you notice that your child is behaving unusually, as this could be a sign that something isn’t right.
According to the Children’s Medical Institute of the National University Hospital, this could be a sign of cancer, along with changes in personality and school performance.
Persistent headaches could also be a sign of a tumour in the brain, according to the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).
This is typically caused by an increased pressure in the skull that is caused by the mass, as the skull is a bony structure which cannot expand.
A child may be vomiting due to various reasons, such as food poisoning, severe cough or cold, or the stomach flu.
But cancer that affects the brain can also cause vomiting, says the NCCS.
If your child is frequently nauseous and has trouble holding in his food or water intake, it could be more than just a stomach bug and you should get it checked out immediately.
10. Vision problems
The NCCS adds vision problems such as blurring, double vision or loss of vision as a possible indicator of a brain tumour.
If your child is showing signs of difficulty in sight, it may be time to consult with a specialist to rule out the possibility of cancer.
According to Parkway Cancer Centre, among the list of cancer signs in children are seizures, specifically those that are not related to or caused by high fevers.
These, too, could be symptoms of a brain tumour.
Seizures can also be due to a fever, lack of oxygen, head trauma or other illnesses, so it’s best to seek medical advice to determine the cause.
12. Bone pain
The National Cancer Institute, Singapore adds bone pain to the list of cancer signs in children, sometimes even causing a limp.
More specifically, this could be indicative of Neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that commonly occurs in the adrenal gland.
It is a malignant solid tumour which produces swelling or pain and the symptoms may vary depending on the location of the tumour.
The Health Promotion Board mentions that persistent fatigue and weakness are common symptoms of Lymphoma, which is a group of cancers of the lymphatic system.
Tests that need to be done to diagnose this include: Physical exam, blood test, biopsy of the swelling, bone marrow aspiration, X-rays, CT or MRI scans.
14. Unexplained fever
If your child has a recurrent and unexplainable fever, this could be a sign of cancer, or specifically Leukaemia, according to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
Leukaemia is the most common type of cancer seen in children which occurs when the marrow overproduces immature white blood cells.
Wilm’s tumour, which is a cancer that occurs in the kidney, may cause a child to pass blood in his urine, according to KKH.
This rare type of cancer mainly affects children and is usually found in just one kidney, although occasionally it may affect both kidneys.
For more information about childhood cancer, please visit the Children’s Cancer Foundation.