Childhood Cancer

Childhood Cancer

Signs and symptoms

Cancer begins with the transformation of a single cell. The malignant changes that occur in these renegade cells can cause several signs and symptoms, many of which mimic common childhood illnesses.

Parents are usually the first to notice that something is wrong with their child, and they seek medical attention. Occasionally, a diagnosis of cancer is based on chance findings during a routine examination by a pediatrician, eye doctor, or dentist. Rarely, it is discovered on an x-ray done for other reasons.

Following are some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of a solid tumor:

•  Swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints, the back, or legs

•  A lump, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, armpits, or legs

•  A whitish color behind the pupil

•  Continued, unexplained weight loss

•  Frequent infections

•  Nausea that persists

•  Fatigue

•  Paleness

•  Eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and persist

•  Recurrent or persistent fevers

Most parents react to their concerns by taking their child to a doctor. Usually, the doctor performs a physical exam and may order blood work or x-rays.

Ten days after a well-baby check, I was changing 3-month-old Estele’s diaper and noticed that the right side of her belly felt hard. I felt around and found a lump. It was a Sunday, so I called the nurse line at the pediatrician’s office and was told it was probably constipation. Estele had gone several times that day, and I just knew it wasn’t that. My husband and I took her to the emergency room where an ultrasound was done. They didn’t tell us what was wrong but said we had to go to the children’s hospital right away and not to stop anywhere.

Sometimes the diagnosis is not as easy and fast as Estele’s:

When Hailee was a baby, we noticed that sometimes her eye appeared white and sometimes it looked reddish. We were worried, but the pediatrician said that she was healthy. He eventually gave us a referral to see an ophthalmologist when we insisted. Since he didn’t feel it was an emergency, we had to wait 3 months to see the eye specialist, who diagnosed her unilateral retinoblastoma. By that time, Hailee’s retina was detached, and her eye had to be enucleated. I remember feeling completely shocked when the specialist said that she had a disease that would kill her if left untreated.