The types of cancers that develop in children are different from those that develop in adults. Lifestyle or environmental risk factors don’t play a role; it is usually the result of DNA changes in cells that take place very early in life.
Because of major treatment advances, more than 80% of children with cancer now survive five years or more. Still, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old, after accidents.
Cancers in children are sometimes hard to recognise because common illnesses or everyday bumps and bruises can mask early warning signs.
Let’s take a closer look at the top five cancers found in children and the warning signs for each.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer and accounts for about 34% of all cancers in children. ALL typically occurs between the ages of 2 and 4, and is more common in males than females. Leukaemia begins in the bone marrow and spreads to the blood, from where it can then spread to the organs. Three out of four childhood leukemia cases are ALL.
• Bone and joint pain
• Weight loss
Brain Tumours and other nervous system tumours make up about 27% of childhood cancers. There are many types of brain tumours and the treatment and outlook for each is different. Most brain tumours in children start in the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brain-stem. Although brain tumours are typically different in children as opposed to adults, many of the symptoms remain the same.
• Balance problems
• Vision, hearing or speech problems
• Frequent vomiting
Neuroblastoma arises from immature nerve cells in infants and young children. Primarily found in children younger than 5, this disease often begins in the adrenal glands and makes up 7% of childhood cancers in the US. It’s more common in males than females, and only 1-2 % of children with this disease have a family history of it.
• Impaired ability to walk
• Changes in eyes (bulging, dark circles, droopy eyelids)
• Pain in various locations of the body
• High blood pressure
Wilms Tumours start in the kidneys and are the most common type of paediatric kidney cancer. Wilms tumours usually only form in one kidney, but can sometimes form in both, and accounts for about 5% of all paediatric cancers. This disease is typically found in very young children – 3 to 4 years old – and is not common in children over 6.
• Swelling or lump in the belly
• Poor appetite
Lymphoma starts in certain cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. These cancers affect lymph nodes and other lymph tissues, like the tonsils or thymus. They can also affect the bone marrow and other organs, and can cause different symptoms depending on where the cancer is growing.
There are two main types of lymphoma:
Hodgkin Lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin disease, is rare in children younger than 5 years of age. This type of cancer is very similar in children and adults, including which types of treatment work best.
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is more likely to occur in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than 3. The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are different from those in adults. These cancers often grow quickly and require intensive treatment, but they also tend to respond better to treatment than most non-Hodgkin lymphomas in adults.
• Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
• Weight loss
For more information-at-a-glance re Childhood Cancers please refer to our Child Cancer Types. Click on the Awareness Ribbon to go to full article on a particular childhood cancer.
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