Childhood Cancer Symptoms and Risk Factors

One day there may be a way to prevent pediatric cancer. Until then, keeping a close eye on your child’s health can help catch pediatric cancer in its early stages. At Roswell Park Oishei Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program, our multidisciplinary approach to pediatric cancer and blood disorders ensures that your child receives the best care from diagnosis to remission and beyond

Types of childhood cancers

  • Leukemias: Blood cell cancers make up one-third of all childhood cancers. The most common forms of pediatric leukemia are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
  • Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors: The most common solid tumors in children are gliomas and medulloblastomas.
  • Lymphomas: Both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas (cancers of the lymph system) affect children.
  • Retinoblastoma: This cancer affects the retinas of the child’s eye.
  • Sarcomas: This disease includes bone cancers such as osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma and soft tissue sarcomas. The most common type of pediatric sarcoma is rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of muscle, tendon, cartilage, or bone.
  • Wilms Tumor: A form of pediatric kidney cancer.
  • Neuroblastoma: A cancer of the peripheral nervous system that is common in children.
  • Germ Cell Tumors: These tumors start from germ cells, most often in the testes or ovaries

Symptoms of childhood cancers

Child laying in bed with someone taking their temperature

Top 5 Warning Signs of Pediatric Cancer

Cancers in children are sometimes hard to recognize because common illnesses or everyday bumps and bruises can mask the early warning signs.

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Early signs of pediatric cancer are sometimes hard to spot, since childhood is filled with common illnesses and injuries. Keep up with your child’s well visits and get medical attention for symptoms that don’t go away, including:

  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained changes in skin color, such as paleness
  • Lack of energy
  • Easy bruising
  • Ongoing pain in one area
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever or illness
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Sudden eye or vision changes
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss

What are the risk factors for developing childhood cancer?

If your child is diagnosed with cancer, please keep in mind that you could not have prevented it. Unlike adult cancers, the cause of most childhood cancers is largely unknown. Pediatric cancers are not caused by lifestyle factors like smoking. In a small number of cases the causes may include:

  • Genetic Syndromes: Conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and Gorlin’s syndrome can increase the risk for some pediatric cancers. Roswell Park's Clinical Genetic Service can help identify if your child or family is at risk.
  • Down Syndrome: Down syndrome raises a child’s risk for leukemia.
  • Exposure to High Levels of Ionizing Radiation: Being exposed to radiation from an industrial accident or radiotherapy raises the risk for cancer.
  • Prior Cancer: If your child has had cancer in the past and been treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it raises his or her risk for cancer.
  • AIDS: Children with AIDS are at greater risk for Hodgkin lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, and leiomyosarcoma.

Learn About Hereditary Cancer Screenings

What does NOT appear to cause pediatric cancer?

  • Ultrasounds during pregnancy
  • Residential magnetic field from power lines
  • Low levels of indoor radon exposure
  • Maternal cigarette smoking

Contact us

If you think your child may be showing cancer warning signs, we encourage you to make an appointment with his or her pediatrician. If your child has already received a cancer diagnosis or you need a second opinion, please call us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) to make an appointment with our premier pediatric hematology and oncology team.

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