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At our National Cancer Information Center trained Cancer Information Specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day, every day of the year to empower you with accurate, up-to-date information to help you make educated health decisions. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with valuable services and resources.
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Screening is testing for a disease such as cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Childhood cancers are rare, and there are no widely recommended screening tests to look for cancer in children who are not at increased risk.
Some children have a higher chance of developing a specific type of cancer because of certain gene changes they inherit from a parent. These children may need careful, regular medical check-ups that include special tests to look for early signs of cancer.
Many cancers in children are found early, either by a child’s doctor or by parents or relatives. But cancers in children can be hard to recognize right away because early symptoms are often like those caused by much more common illnesses or injuries. Children often get sick or have bumps or bruises that might mask the early signs of cancer. Cancer in children is not common, but it’s important to have your child checked by a doctor if they have unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away, such as:
Most of these symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something other than cancer, such as an injury or infection. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Other symptoms are also possible, depending on the type of cancer. You can find more information on common symptoms for specific types of childhood cancer in Types of Cancer that Develop in Children.
The doctor will ask about the child's medical history and symptoms, and will then examine your child. If cancer might be causing the symptoms, the doctor might order imaging tests (such as x-rays) or other tests. Sometimes if an abnormal lump or tumor is found, the doctor might need to remove some or all of it so that it can be looked at under a microscope for cancer cells. This is known as a biopsy.
If your child is found to have cancer, you can learn about coping and moving forward after the diagnosis is made in If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Cancer.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Allen-Rhoades W, Steuber CP. Chapter 6: Clinical Assessment and Differential Diagnosis of the Child With Suspected Cancer. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. American Cancer Society. Atlanta, Ga. 2019.
Dome JS, Rodriguez-Galindo C, Spunt SL, Santana, VM. Chapter 92: Pediatric Solid Tumors. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Last Revised: October 14, 2019
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