Childhood Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2020

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 a variety of the signs or symptoms listed below, many of which are similar to common childhood illnesses. And, sometimes children with cancer do not show any of these changes. In addition, it's important to remember that the cause of a symptom or sign may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.

Many of the symptoms can be described using an acronym (CHILDCANCER) provided by The Pediatric Oncology Resource Center. (Please note this link takes you to a separate website.)

  • 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 in your child, please talk with your family 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 be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. 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 DiagnosisIt explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.