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Symptoms of cancer vary depending on cancer type.

Leukemia causes symptoms which are primarily due to reduced bone marrow function. This causes vague signs and symptoms such as pallor and reduced physical capacity, fever and repeated infections, bleeding and petechiae, bruising, and possibly mucosal bleeding and gum swelling. Skeletal pain is common, possibly accompanied by swollen joints, and limping may occur.  

The symptoms of lymphoma may be due to local growth of tumor tissue in a lymph node or other organs, or general symptoms may occur.

Cancers outside the central nervous system are often discovered incidentally, for example by a lump in the abdomen. Frequently, these types of tumors are not painful but can be accompanied by, for example, constipation if the tumor presses on the colon and prevents the stool from passing, or problems when urinating. Other possible symptoms are blood in the urine caused by tumors in the urinary tract, or skeletal pain or lumps/swelling caused by tumors of the muscle/skeletal system. In general, diffuse symptoms which do not have a natural explanation, and which do not diminish after a reasonable amount of time, should be further investigated.

Symptoms from the central nervous system depend on where the tumor is localized, the growth rate of the tumor, and the age of the child.

When a brain tumor is detected in an infant's first year of life, rapid growth of the head circumference is often the only finding. Most infants with a more rapid increase in head circumference than expected do not have a brain tumor, but should still be examined more closely to find the cause. Brain tumors in children are often localized to the posterior fossa (cerebellum), which can lead to a blockage in cerebrospinal fluid followed by a pressure increase (hydrocephalus).

This causes:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting, characteristically most prominent in the morning 
  • loss of coordination

If the tumor is localized in the large brain (cerebrum), the child may have:

  • seizures (epilepsy)
  • paralysis
  • disturbances of vision 
  • hormonal disturbances

The last two symptoms occur if the tumor is located centrally in the brain.

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