Childhood Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about changes in a child’s body and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

Cancer can be hard to detect in children. Children with cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, children with cancer do not show any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.

Many of the symptoms can be described using an acronym provided by The Pediatric Oncology Resource Center.

  • Continued, unexplained weight loss
  • Headaches, often with early morning vomiting
  • Increased swelling or persistent pain in the bones, joints, back, or legs
  • Lump or mass, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits
  • Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash
  • Constant, frequent, or persistent infections
  • A whitish color behind the pupil
  • Nausea that persists or vomiting without nausea
  • Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness
  • Eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and persist
  • Recurring or persistent fevers of unknown origin

If you are concerned about any changes, please talk with your child’s doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often your child has been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your child’s health care team about symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.