Childhood cancer: Know the 12 warning signs

August 31, 2014 | by Denise Heady

Childhood cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the past 40 years. More than 80 percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more, which is a tremendous feat.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month Knowing the warning signs of childhood cancer is the first step in getting a diagnosis.

Despite the survival rate increase, cancer continues to be the No. 1 disease killer and second-leading cause of death in children. In 2014, nearly 1,400 children under the age of 15 are expected to die from cancer in the United States and about 10,450 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer.

Although there are no widely recommended screening tests for childhood cancers, many cancers can be found early. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms for some of the most common childhood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, neuroblastoma and Wilm’s tumor.

September, designated as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, highlights the importance of early detection, which can ultimately help children beat the disease.

“Early detection is key to achieving the best chance of cure,” said Theresa Harned, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics. “As cancer progresses, more changes occur in the DNA of the cancer cells, that can make them more resistant to common therapies and harder to treat.”

Here are some of the most common cancer symptoms children experience:

  • Fever
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Swelling or lump in the belly
  • Headaches
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Vision problems
  • Excessive bruising
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Trouble walking
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Some symptoms of childhood cancer, such as fever and fatigue, are similar and overlap to many childhood illness and viruses. And toddlers especially are prone to bumps and bruises, which can be difficult to distinguish from the bruising and bleeding associated with leukemia.


In general, fevers associated with most common childhood illnesses should resolve within a week, Harned said. If the symptoms last longer, she said, they could be a warning sign of a larger problem.

“Parents know their children the best and if a parent feels that their child is acting differently than have with other common illnesses in the past, or has lost developmental milestones that they have mastered, such as walking, it is important to share this information with their doctor,” Harned said.


Find out more about research and treatments for pediatric cancers and blood disorders by visiting

Learn more about getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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