It’s not something we like to think about, but cancer affects children too. The cancers that develop in childhood are generally different to those that affect adults. These are the most common childhood cancers:
- Leukaemia – cancer of the blood cells, usually white blood cells. This is the most common type of childhood cancer.
- Brain and other central nervous system tumours. In children these tumours usually start in the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brain stem.
- Neuroblastoma – cancer that starts in the early nerve cells of the sympathetic nervous system. Affects infants and young children.
- Wilms’ tumour – cancer that starts in the kidneys. Usually just one kidney is affected. Most common in children aged three to four.
- Lymphoma – develops in cells of the immune system called lymphocytes.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma – starts in cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. May start in the head and neck, groin, abdomen, pelvis, or in an arm or leg.
- Retinoblastoma – cancer of the eye. Usually occurs in children around the age of two.
- Bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma) – cancer that starts in the bone. Occurs most frequently in older children and teens.
Know the signs
Childhood cancers can often be treated successfully, says the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) – the key is early detection. Familiarise yourself with this list of cancer warning signs in children under the age of 15.
- Continued, unexplained weight loss.
- Headaches, often with vomiting in the early night/early morning.
- Increased swelling or pain in bones, joints, back, legs.
- Lump/mass in abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, armpits.
- Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, rash.
- Constant infections.
- A whitish colour behind the pupil.
- Nausea which persists or vomiting without nausea.
- Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness.
- Eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and persist.
- Recurrent fevers of unknown origin.
While the above symptoms share general symptoms with a variety of other illnesses, it is important to seek medical attention if they persist.