Pediatric cancers are different from the cancers that develop in adults. While adult cancers can have strong environmental and lifestyle risk factors (such as smoking, poor diet, or exposure to radiation or certain chemicals), pediatric cancers are most often the result of gene mutations. These mutations change the DNA of the cells in the child’s body, causing the cells to grow rapidly out of control and in turn, develop cancer.
The most common types of pediatric cancer include:
- Bone cancer – including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma . Bone cancer can develop at any age and accounts for three percent of all pediatric cancers.
- Brain and spinal cord tumors – including medulloblastomas. Brain and spinal cord tumors account for 26 percent of all pediatric cancers, making it the second most common childhood cancer. Brain tumors typically start in the lower parts of the brain.
- Leukemia – including acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Leukemia affects the bone marrow and blood, and spreads rapidly through the body. It accounts for 30 percent of all pediatric cancers, making it the most common cancer found in children.
- Lymphoma – including Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. Typically starts in the lymph nodes (the bean-sized nodes in the neck, underarms and groin that help fight infection) and other lymph tissues. Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for three percent of childhood cancers. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for five percent of childhood cancers.
- Neuroblastoma – This type of cancer starts in very early forms of nerve cells that form during development. Neuroblastoma accounts for six percent of pediatric cancers.
- Retinoblastoma – cancer of the eye that is typically found because the child’s eye looks unusual. Retinoblastoma accounts for two percent of pediatric cancers and is most commonly seen in children under two years old.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma – the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children, this type of cancer starts in cells that normally develop into muscles. Rhabdomyosarcoma accounts for three percent of pediatric cancers.
- Wilms tumor – also known as nephroblastoma, this type of cancer affects the kidneys. Most often found in children between the ages of 3 and 4, and typically just affects one kidney. It accounts for five percent of pediatric cancers.
Pediatric cancer can be hard to recognize, as symptoms are common to typical childhood illnesses and injuries. In general, pediatric cancer symptoms include:
- Unusual lump or swelling
- Loss of energy
- Easy bruising
- Ongoing pain in specific part of body
- Unexplained fever that won’t go away
- Unexplained illness that doesn’t get better
- Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
- Sudden vision/eye changes
- Sudden unexplained weight loss