Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer

Knowledge saves lives.

The early detection and treatment for childhood cancers are important. If detected early, many children can be treated successfully. Research shows that the sooner a child is diagnosed the better the outcome for the patient. Parents can equip themselves with knowing the warning signs of childhood cancers and when to consult a doctor if these symptoms persist.  

Warning signs parents should be concerned about:

Cancer in children is not common, but it is important to have your child checked by a doctor if they have unusual signs or symptoms that persists:

  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy; associated failure to thrive
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • An ongoing pain in one area of the body; especially when present or worse at night
  • Limping without a history injury / trauma
  • Unexplained fever or illness that does not go away
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Any worsening visual, cognitive and / or hearing abnormalities
  • Unexplained weight loss – fits in with failure to thrive

When to visit a doctor – Private sector

Step 1: General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor

If you are concerned about any persistent symptoms, or if your child is not responding to over-the-counter medication make an appointment with your GP. Children are not mini-adults and if your GP finds reason for concern, they will refer you to a paediatrician.

Step 2: Paediatrician (a medical practitioner specialising in children and their diseases)

Paediatricians are trained to identify cancer symptoms and will arrange for tests and scans to diagnose a potential cancer. They will also reach out to other specialists which will become your child’s care team in case of a cancer diagnosis.

“In oncology multi-disciplinary teams work together to diagnose and treat our cancer patients. This means that your child will have a team of highly specialised doctors and supporting practitioners who will design a treatment plan which is tailored to the particular cancer and your child,” explains Dr Riedemann.

What if you do not have medical aid?

  • Do not ignore persistent symptoms and make sure you visit your closest Department of Health Clinic or if you can afford it, a general practitioner in your area.
  • Come prepared with a list of the symptoms which concerns you, point these out to the healthcare practitioner who examines your child.
  • Ask for a referral to a specialist at your closest provincial hospital and make an appointment to see them.
  • Most tertiary provincial hospitals will have paediatric and oncology specialists who can diagnose and treat childhood cancers.
  • Many private specialists work in multi-disciplinary teams with their government and academic colleagues at state / university hospitals.
  • South Africa boasts the highest level of care in public hospitals in Africa, including the paediatric oncology department at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town.
  • We have centres of excellence like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, which is regarded as Africa’s leaning centre for postgraduate specialist paediatric and surgical training.
  • Children from all nine provinces are referred here by provincial clinics and hospitals.

There are also other resources and organisations who help parents of children with cancer. This includes arranging access to treatment, practical support such as transport and accommodation as well as emotional / psycho-spiritual support including counselling and psychosocial services.