Childhood cancer is rare and about 1,550 children (out of 11 million aged 0-14) in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year. But every parent dreads to hear that their child has cancer and it is understandable to worry if your child becomes unwell.
Symptoms depend on the type of cancer and where it is in the body. They can also be quite vague, varied and are usually caused by something other than cancer.
What are the most common symptoms?
It is difficult to come up with a definitive list of symptoms as many are common in childhood. However, some general common symptoms are:
- Feeling very tired and lethargic all the time and/or noticeable skin paleness
- Having lots of infections
- Having flu-like symptoms that don't go away
- Excessive bleeding, bruising easily or rash of small red spots (called petechiae)
- Persistent and unexplained sweating or fever
- Unexplained aches and pains that don't go away, especially in the bones, joints, back or legs
- Unexplained new limp or leg weakness
- Feeling a lump or unusual firmness anywhere on the body, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits
- Losing a significant and unexplained amount of weight in teenagers
Brain tumours can be particularly hard to diagnose and can cause a number of symptoms including persistent headaches and early morning sickness. If you are worried that your child has a brain tumour, read HeadSmart's list of possible symptoms affecting different age groups.
Eye cancer (known as retinoblastoma) usually affects young children under the age of six years old with symptoms such as a white glow in the eye (usually seen in photos) or other eye changes. If you are worried that your child has retinoblastoma, read CHECT's list of symptoms for further information.
What do I do if I think my child has cancer?
Many parents report having a gut feeling or instinct that something wasn't right with their child so it is important that your concerns are listened to. If you are worried about your child, make an urgent appointment to see your GP. Make a list of your child's symptoms and why you suspect it might be cancer. Your GP will then talk through your concerns with you and make a clinical judgement as to the next step forward.
Your child will either be referred to your local hospital for tests as a way of making a definite diagnosis (this may happen immediately or within 48 hours) or you will be advised to bring your child back to see the GP again if the problem persists. Your child will then be referred if the problem doesn't go away or gets worse.
You know your child best. If you still have concerns or are worried about your child, revisit your GP to see whether a referral is needed.
Did you know that typically a GP might see one case of childhood cancer every 20 years? They might never see a case in their whole career!