What are the Symptoms of Pediatric Cancer?
Some types of cancer occur more frequently, especially in childhood. Early detection of these cancers is more likely, especially if families are informed about the symptoms. While cancers detected early may be easier to treat, the possibility of spread is also prevented.
Common Cancer Types in Children
Early diagnosis is of great importance in childhood cancers, as in all cancers. In addition to general childhood examinations, early diagnosis of childhood cancers can be achieved thanks to existing symptoms. Cancers treated early are more likely to be cured and the survival rate may also increase.
Acute leukemia is the most common childhood cancer. Leukemias are divided into acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. In addition, there are also rarer types of chronic leukemia. If leukemia is suspected due to symptoms in children, laboratory findings such as white blood cell count, platelet count, and complete blood cell count are examined. For definitive diagnosis, immature blood cells are examined by bone marrow biopsy. Leukemias occur in the bone marrow of children, and the symptoms that occur are related to the excessive production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. These symptoms are:
- Anemia: Anemia occurs in leukemia and due to anemia, inability to keep up with peers, need for frequent rest, dizziness, shortness of breath, tachycardia and heart palpitations may occur.
- Thrombocytopenia: The development of thrombocytopenia is observed in children with leukemia due to the decrease in platelets in the blood. With this problem, problems such as easy bruising and bleeding may be observed.
- Pallor: Pallor, which is more common in the presence of anemia, affects skin color cosmetically.
- Fever: Fever may occur in children due to suppression of white blood cells, and this situation may recur repeatedly.
- Infections: Infections that do not heal or recur despite treatment are observed.
- Bone or joint pain: Symptoms experienced in many children with leukemia include unexplained pain in bones or joints.
Other symptoms are:
Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers
It is the most common childhood cancer after leukemia in childhood from birth to 14 years of age. The area of cancer involvement is mostly in the brainstem, spinal cord or cranial nerves. The most common brain tumors are gliomas, glioblastoma, astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, ependymoma and brainstem glioma. Although the causes of brain and spinal cord tumors are not exactly known, it is thought that they may be caused by radiation exposure or some syndromes. The symptoms that occur vary depending on the age of the child. The reason why head circumference is measured, especially up to the age of 2, is to investigate such symptoms. Head shaking and fussiness are considered to be the clearest symptoms in early childhood and infancy. Computed tomography, MRI and biopsy are recommended for definitive diagnosis. Symptoms that vary depending on the type of cancer are:
- When intracranial pressure increases due to tumor, it causes headache, vomiting, nausea, irritability, drowsiness, depression and decreased heart function.
- If a tumor develops in the front part of the brain, seizures, visual disturbances, speech disorders, partial paralysis, confusion, personality changes, short-term memory loss and gait disorders may occur.
- If there is a tumor in the brain stem, seizures, endocrine problems, double vision, nerve or muscle paralysis, increased intracranial pressure, and hearing loss may be observed.
- A tumor located in the back of the brain causes increased intracranial pressure, vomiting, uncoordinated muscle movements and walking problems.
Lymphomas are cancers that affect lymphoid tissues in children. It is divided into two types: non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. While Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in adolescents, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in young children. At the same time, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in girls. The most common findings of lymphomas are lymph nodes. These nodes, called lymphadenopathy, are immobile and hard. At the same time, it does not cause pain and is permanent. Cough is common in non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Apart from this, there is fatigue, fever, weight loss, pain, night sweats and itching.
Neuroblastoma, or autonomic nervous system cancer, is a cancer found in children under the age of 5. Since the immature nerve cells of young children have spread throughout the body, cancerous tumors can be found at any point in the body. Although symptoms generally vary depending on the location of the tumor, masses may be palpable, especially in the abdomen, neck, pelvis, chest and spinal cord. In addition to masses, abdominal pain, constipation, urination problems, hypertension, anemia, bone pain, fever and weight loss may be observed. At the same time, neuroblastomas increase catecholamines in the circulation. Therefore, urine and blood samples play a role in diagnosis.
Nephroblastoma (Wilms Tumor)
This cancer, called kidney cancer, is the most common intra-abdominal cancer of childhood. It particularly affects children under 5 years of age and is more common in girls. Wilms tumor, unlike other tumors, can grow without showing symptoms. However, when symptoms occur, they occur with abdominal pain, fatigue, and hypertension. Genetically at risk children should undergo abdominal ultrasound at regular intervals without waiting for symptoms.
This rare childhood cancer occurs in the retina. It is a type of cancer that can also be transmitted hereditarily, and its most common symptom is leukocoria. Leukocoria is known as white light reflection. Apart from this, strabismus and red eyes may also be observed.
Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, is an aggressive type of childhood cancer. It affects bones that grow especially during adolescence. It mostly affects the arms, legs and pelvis. Since the most common symptom is bone pain, these pains can be ignored in physically active children and diagnosis is delayed. The distinctive feature of the pain is that it does not go away with rest. Bone pain and palpable masses that worsen especially at night or during physical activity are among the symptoms. Apart from these, when the tumor is in the upper limbs, a decrease in manual dexterity may be observed.
It is a soft tissue cancer of the smooth muscle encountered in the head, neck and extremities. It can occur at any point on the body. It is divided into two types: embryonal, which affects young children, and alveolar, which affects adolescents. The symptoms of this cancer may vary depending on the region where it is located. It is also effective at times when symptoms appear. Although symptoms vary, they can be generalized as a mass, vomiting, constipation, nerve paralysis, and lymph nodes.
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
When cancer is diagnosed with early diagnosis, the likelihood of responding to treatment increases. At the same time, the probability of survival is higher in patients diagnosed early. In cases where early diagnosis is made, it is possible for the treatment to be more painless and in a shorter time, as the disease becomes more combatable. At the same time, when early diagnosis and treatment begins, cancer can be prevented from spreading to more organs and tissues. In order to make an early diagnosis, it is very important that both the family and the applied health institution have high awareness of the symptoms and timely clinical evaluations and diagnosis and staging. In this way, the chance of treatment increases for many types of cancer where treatment is started early.
In childhood cancer, families must be aware of the symptoms and consult a health institution in case of any doubt. The likelihood of recovery and survival increases significantly with treatments performed by an expert team.