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  • Kids Cancer Fund

If Your Child Has Cancer

Adults may have behaviors that put them at a higher risk for cancer, such as smoking or eating an unhealthy diet. But children are too young for any unhealthy habits to increase their risk of cancer. Childhood cancers are almost always caused by a DNA mutation that is not inherited but happens randomly.

The symptoms of cancer depend on the type of cancer, the location of cancer, how big it is, and how much it affects other parts of your child's body. Talk to your child's doctor about any changes you've noticed. The doctor will ask questions about your child's symptoms and do a physical exam. It is common for both children and parents to feel anxiety about tests and procedures. But with preparation, you can lower anxiety for you and your child.

Diagnostic tests that may be done include:

Lab tests: Blood and urine tests can be used to help find some types of cancer.

Ultrasound: A small transducer is moved around on your child's skin. It gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off tissues. The echoes are made into a picture on a computer screen.

X-rays: X-rays are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves and the imaging creates pictures of the inside of your body.

CT scan: This test uses x-rays to make detailed pictures of the inside of your child's body. This test may be done to look for cancer or to see if it has spread.

MRI scan: MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make detailed pictures of the inside of your child's body. MRIs can show the tumor and other parts of the body.

Biopsy: In a biopsy, the doctor removes a small piece of the suspected area to check it for cancer cells. A biopsy is often the only way to tell for sure if your child has cancer.

For some types of cancer, the cancer cells in the biopsy sample are given a grade. This helps doctors predict how fast the tumor is likely to grow and spread. The grade is based on how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. Cells that look vastly different from normal cells are given a higher grade and tend to grow faster.

For most cancer types (other than leukemia), the doctor will also want to find out how far it has spread. This is called staging. Your child's cancer may be stage 1, 2, 3, or 4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. Like stage 4, a higher number means a more serious cancer that has spread from where it first started.

Surgery: For cancers other than leukemia, surgery is often used to remove the tumor and a margin or edge of the healthy tissue around it.

Radiation treatment: Radiation uses high-energy rays (like x-rays) to kill cancer cells. It may be used along with other treatments like surgery or chemo to treat some cancers. Sometimes radiation alone can kill the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Chemo is the use of drugs to fight cancer. These drugs go into the blood and spread through the body. Chemo is often given in cycles or rounds. A break follows each round of treatment. Most of the time, two or more chemo drugs are given.

Targeted Drugs: Targeted drugs are made to work mostly on the changes in cells that make them cancer. These drugs affect mainly cancer cells and not normal cells in the body. They may be given alone or along with chemo.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs help your child's immune system fight cancer. Immune treatments can help treat some types of cancer.

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