Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old (the leading cause is accidents). The good news is that, detected early, the overall survival rate for childhood cancers now exceeds 80%. The problem is in early detection. How do you distinguish the normal bumps, bruises, and illnesses of childhood from more serious illnesses such as cancer? This is made especially difficult in young children, who may not be able to properly identify and explain their symptoms to adults.Regular medical checkups for children are especially important for that reason. Although no one, young or old, enjoys going to the doctor, and it can be both costly and time-consuming, delaying or even skipping checkups can be dangerous.
In addition to regular checkups, parents and guardians should be aware of the warning signs of childhood cancer. Although these symptoms can occur for reasons other than cancer, seek medical advice if any of the following are persistent and/or otherwise unexplainable. (This list comes from materials provided by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital,)
- Persistent/unexplainable fever
- Fatigue and paleness
- Swelling or lumps anywhere on the body, especially in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Change of disposition, e.g. whining or crying spells, unusual irritability
- Regression of toilet habits
- Stumbling or falling
- Double vision or other eye problems
- Easy and frequent bruising
- Nosebleeds or bleeding from any part of the body
- Persistent/unexplainable weight loss
- Bone and joint pain
- Frequent headaches or dizziness
- Ongoing pain in a specific area
- Limping or difficulty walking
If your child frequently exhibits any of these symptoms, seemingly without cause, seek medical advice as soon as possible. Early detection is absolutely key to the successful treatment for childhood cancers.
The American Cancer Society provides the following information about seeing the doctor (links are to pages on their website):
"The doctor will ask about the child's medical history and symptoms, and will then examine your child. If cancer might be causing the symptoms, the doctor might order imaging tests (such as x-rays) or other tests. Sometimes if an abnormal lump or tumor is found, the doctor might need to remove some or all of it so that it can be looked at under a microscope for cancer cells. This is known as a biopsy.
If your child is found to have cancer, you can learn about coping and moving forward after the diagnosis is made in If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Cancer."
Sources: Information in this article comes from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the American Cancer Society. Please visit their websites for more information.
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