Symptoms of cancer in children

Teenage boy

Although cancer is rare in children, it’s important to know the symptoms and get any unusual changes checked out. 

The symptoms depend on where the cancer is. The most common children's cancers affect the white blood cells (leukaemia) and the brain. 

Symptoms of leukaemia (cancer of white blood cells)

  • Unexplained  prolonged feeling of tiredness
  • Looking pale
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual bleeding (like spontaneous nosebleeds, unexplained bruising in unusual places )
  • A pinprick rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes lasting for more than a week or two
  • Repeated infections or fever
  • Lasting bone , joint pain or unexplained  limping

Symptoms of brain tumours

  • Headaches – early morning that are severe and worsening   
  • Feeling sick or getting sick accompanied with headache especially in the morning
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Drowsiness or dizziness
  • New eye problems, such as abnormal eye movements, squint, blurring or double vision
  • Irritability and/or change in behaviour
  • Babies or young children with persistent unusual high pitched crying  

Symptoms of other childhood cancers

  • A lump, swelling or painful area that doesn’t go away.
  • Regular unexplained night sweats or high temperatures
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling sick (nausea) or getting sick (vomiting).
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very tired most of the time
  • Lasting bone or joint pain
  • A limp
  • Changes in eyesight, such as a squint, vision problems or eye changes, such as a painful red eye or a white glow or a lack of red eye in photos
  • Blood in pee or poo
  • Swollen lymph nodes lasting for more than a week or two (e.g. in the neck, groin)
  • Flu like symptoms that don’t clear up – such as temperature, feeling very tired
  • Swollen tummy area

Most of these symptoms can be caused by other more common and less serious conditions, so try not to worry too much.

Always get any unusual changes checked by a doctor…

You know your child best. If you have any worries at all about your child’s health, it’s important to go to your GP as soon as possible. Be ready to give your doctor as much information as possible about your child’s symptoms: 

  • How the symptoms feel
  • When the symptoms happen
  • How long they have been going on for

Tell your doctor if you’re worried about cancer, so they can put your mind at rest. If you’re still worried or your child doesn’t get better, don’t be afraid to go back to the doctor or get a second opinion.

Read more about talking to doctors.

If you’re worried or have questions about cancer, call our cancer nurses on 1800 200 700. We can arrange for you to talk to our childhood cancer nurse, if you wish.

Can I get my child screened for cancer? 

Testing for cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no children´s cancer screening programme at present, however if you’re worried about cancer, talk to your doctor.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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