Recognizing the Symptoms: Warning Signs of Solid Tumors

A malignant tumor is an abnormal growth of cells. These cells grow uncontrollably and invade healthy tissue, spreading to other parts of the body. If untreated, malignant tumors are fatal. Solid tumors include:

  • Retinoblastoma: a rare cancer of the eye. Early diagnosis is critical to preserve vision. Children usually present with a "white spot" inside the eye commonly referred to as a "cat's eye."
  • Neuroblastoma: found only in children, it develops from primitive nerve cells. More than 50 percent occur in the adrenal glands near the kidney.
  • Wilms tumor: originates in the kidney. It is usually found in children under age 15.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: an aggressive, soft-tissue tumor that grows from muscle cells. It can arise virtually anywhere in the body.
  • Ewing sarcoma: small, round cell tumors that arise in either the bone or soft tissues. Most commonly found in the arms, legs, pelvis (hip bones) or chest wall.
  • Osteosarcoma: the most common form of bone cancer in children. It occurs most often in bones on the legs or in the upper arms.
  • Hepatoblastoma: common liver tumor in infants; usually presents with a large mass in the right side of the abdomen.

Symptoms of malignant solid tumors often include swelling or a mass that can be palpated. Other less specific signs can be weight loss, fever or vague feelings of ill health. Treatment typically includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these.

Warning Signs

Some children may ignore or not recognize symptoms of illness. Others may be too young to communicate them. So parents or caretakers should make certain children have regular medical checkups with their pediatricians or primary health care providers. Be alert to signs that something might be wrong.

How does a parent tell the difference between a relatively minor illness and a serious illness such as cancer? If a child has any of the following symptoms that do not go away, seek medical attention. Of course, these symptoms can occur for reasons other than serious illness. Please discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor.

  • Fever
  • Fatigue, listlessness or pallor
  • Swelling or lumps anywhere on the body
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Change in disposition, e.g., whining or crying spells, unusual irritability
  • Regression of toilet habits
  • Stumbling or falling
  • Double vision or other eye problems
  • Easy and frequent bruising
  • Nosebleeds or bleeding from any part of the body