Childhood cancer: early diagnosis saves lives

Understandably, childhood cancer is something that most parents do not want to think about. Thankfully, it is uncommon, but not as rare as you may think. It is still unlikely however that your child will be affected during their childhood years. This article is aimed to increase awareness so parents know what to look for in the unlikely event that their child may develop unusual symptoms.

How common is it

· One in every 285 children gets cancer before the age of 20. (1)

· One in every 500 children gets cancer under the age of 14. Nationwide, there are 4,000 children and young adults that are diagnosed with cancer every year, which is a lot more than many may think. (2)

· Childhood Cancer is still the most common medical cause of death in children and young people in the UK (after accidents). (3)

· There are a few simple things that as a parent you can look out for: (4)

Be Child Cancer Aware is a charity which has worked very hard to increase awareness. This information card contains so many important symptoms. From weight loss, bruising, masses and swellings to constant infections, it is worth having a read.

Other symptoms that may be associated with childhood cancer (in addition to those listed above):

  • Constipation which does not respond to diet and medical therapies
  • Swollen abdomen (tummy)
  • Blood in the urine (see your doctor immediately) or difficulty passing urine
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Poor appetite (with or without nausea and vomiting)
  • Change in behaviour, poor concentration
  • Child presenting with a limp that is persistent and not resolving.

It is very important to mention that most of these symptoms are very similar to typical childhood illnesses that improve on their own. This is why it can be so hard to spot. It's important to remember not to panic and, if symptoms don't resolve or your child has a number of symptoms, be sure to get these checked out.

You as a parent know your child better than anyone else. If you are not happy, please see a doctor to have your child's symptoms checked. Remember, early diagnosis can save lives.

It's also worth noting that brain tumours in children can present in a number of different subtle ways. Please read this article for more information.

References:

(1) American Cancer Society - Cancer Facts & Figures 2014: Cancer in Children and Adolescents

(2) Cancer Research UK - http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/childrens-cancers

(3) Office of National Statistics - Childhood mortality in England and Wales: 2014

(4) Be Child Cancer Aware - www.bechildcanceraware.org/campaign/awareness-cards

Dr Jennifer Kelly is a GP and founder of the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust (for awareness and research into childhood cancers).