Childhood Cancer Awareness / by Jennifer Kelly
Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:30

Our last blog looked at the facts and statistics associated with childhood cancer. In this blog, we are going to be looking at the symptoms and signs we should be aware of.

Very importantly, most children who develop one or two of these signs and symptoms do not have cancer. It is more likely that they are caused by a normal childhood complaint, so please do not become overly concerned on reading this blog.

However, it is very important if these symptoms develop (or other symptoms of worry), please make sure they see their General Practitioner or another health professional. In the unlikely event that it is cancer, early diagnosis saves lives.

Remember to think LADYBIRDS.

If a child has lost a lot of weight, has blood in the urine, excess bleeding or bruising or double vision, please get them checked immediately. These should not occur and need urgent review. Remember though that these symptoms still not caused by cancer in a lot of cases.

Loss of weight, sickness and nausea
If a child appears to have lost weight (and not rapidly regained it after a viral illness), they need reviewing. Persistent (more than a few days) sickness, nausea, loss of appetite and a constant feeling of fullness are an indication that a child may need a medical review.

If a child has an unhealthy pale appearance (pallor) or an unusually swollen tummy, it is time to take note.

Many children have problems with constipation. However, if this a very new problem, is worsening or is accompanied by other symptoms, they may need looking at more closely and have their tummies examined.

Children with pain that is not resolving (for several days or up to 2 weeks) or keeps returning need to see a doctor.

Pain should normally not wake a child up from sleep and should  always respond to simple painkillers. It is still up for debate whether growing pains truly exist, but the general consensus is that children should not wake up in the morning with pain. If this keeps happens it is an indicator something may not be quite right.

You are concerned. This cannot be emphasised enough. As a parent or carer, you are the advocate of the child. If you are seriously concerned, please take them to see a doctor. If you remain concerned please seek medical advice again and keep trying. Taking our awareness cards with you can be very helpful.

Blood in the urine,excess bleeding or bruising
If a child has widespread or excess bruising with no history of trauma in the area, or bleeding unusually e.g. excessive nosebleeds.
Passing blood in urine (either fresh red or old brown coca-cola coloured urine) is not normal and needs review.

Irritability or constant exhaustion
If a child constantly appears exhausted (out of proportion with their level of activity) or appears to have changed in personality, becoming more anxious, or angry, it is something to keep in mind.

Recurrent viral illnesses
All children get coughs, colds and temperatures. Often, they may be run down with one cold and then end up catching another. This is completely normal, so when do you worry?

If a child seems to have constant back to back viral illnesses without a break, night sweats or seems to be hit harder by illnesses than their peers, it is a good idea to get them checked. In addition, if they appear to suddenly develop persistent or recurrent high temperatures with no obvious accompanying illnesses, they need review.

Disturbance in vision
Usually headaches are due to simple problems such as a viral illness or needing glasses. However, occasionally, they may be a sign of something more worrying. Things to look for are severe or worsening headaches, often worse on waking in the morning. In addition if accompanied by vomiting on waking, double vision or a new onset of a squint.

Beware of babies who have an usual white appearance of one or both of their eyes in low light or on flash photography on a number of occasions. This can be an indication of a form of cancer called retinoblastoma.

Swelling or lump that is persistent
Enlarged lymph nodes are common in children after viral illnesses, but they would usually be expected to resolve within a week or two. Any lumps or bumps that do not resolve need reviewing.

This may be a lump in their tummy, of soft tissue (skin and muscle) or a bony lump. These can appear potentially anywhere on the body. Often lumps turn out to be benign (not cancerous) but it is much better to be safe.

Author's note:
If your child, or a child you know is suffering from any of the symptoms described, or other symptoms you are concerned about, the best thing to do is make sure you see your doctor. It is most likely to be a normal childhood problem, but in the unlikely chance it is cancer, early diagnosis can save lives.

The awareness card below is an awareness card for clinicians, including GPs and other professionals.

Please feel free to print and take with you.