Teenage cancer - the signs and symptoms

Teenage cancer - the signs and symptoms

13 February 2020
2 minute read

Teenagers standing in a line

Between 900 and 2500 new cases of cancer are reported every year for children under the age of 16

It’s estimated that half of all children/adolescents with cancer are never diagnosed.

What causes teenage cancers?Data suggests that 10% of teens diagnosed may have a genetic predisposition,

Those with HIV are at higher risk for certain cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  

Early diagnosis is keyLate diagnosis leads to longer treatment, more disabilities and often lower survival rates. So watch out for symptoms that persist or recur, and that might look like growing pains or sports injuries. Err on the side of caution and get it checked out by the doctor.

The ‘Saint Siluan’ warning signs of teen cancer

  • Seek medical help early for persistent symptoms
  • White spot in the eye, new squint, new blindness, bulging eyeball
  • Lump on the abdomen and pelvis, head and neck, limbs, testes and glands
  • Unexplained prolonged fever over two weeks, loss of weight, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding
  • Aching bones, joints, back and easy fractures
  • Neurological signs -  achange in walk, balance or speech, regression of milestones, headache for more than a week with or without vomiting, enlarged heed

The special needs of teensTeen cancer survivors are old enough to understand what’s happening to them, but still children in many ways. When it comes to treatment, teens are not catered for specifically - they might be too old for paediatric oncology, but the adult oncology ward could be distressing.

How to support them

  • Be respectful, clear and non-judgmental
  • Allow time to process the information, and discuss it
  • Be compassionate, sensitive and honest, to reduce anxiety and fear
  • Teens prefer electronic as well as written info
  • Create opportunities to meet other survivors

Get helpYoung people need expert treatment and support from the moment they hear the word "cancer". Support for both children and their families is offered by the Childhood Cancer Foundation of SA, choc.org.za, and by CANSA.org.za.

What are the most common teenage cancers?Lymphoma: Lymphoma refers to cancersthat start in the lymphatic system. Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma account for nearly a quarter of all the cases in teens (10 to 19 years). 

The signs: A lump in the neck, armpits or groin that may or may not be painful. Other symptoms include night sweats, fever, weight loss, tiredness, persistent itching, coughing and breathlessness.

Leukaemia: affects the blood and bone marrow.
The signs:  Tiredness, weakness, pale skin, bleeding or bruising, fever, weight loss, bone and joint pain

Brain tumour: a growth of cells in the brain that multiplies in an abnormal way.
The signs: Headaches and vomiting, seizures, eye problems such as blurring/seeing double, feeling more sleepy than usual, changes in balance, weakness down one side of body, speech problems, personality changes

Sarcoma: cancerous tumours that form in the bones and connective tissue.
The signs: New lumps (anywhere on the body), bone pain, bowel problems, a limp if the sarcoma is in the leg.

Kaposi sarcoma: an HIV-related cancer that causes patches of abnormal tissue to grow under the skin, mucous membranes or in other organs.
The signs: Purplish patches on the skin, oral lesions on the palate, swelling in the extremities/pubic area, large lymph nodes.

Testicular cancer: a cancer that occurs in the testicles or testes.
The signs: A swelling or lump in the testes, or a heavy feeling in the testes.

Thyroid cancer: a cancer in the thyroid.
The signs: Pain in the neck, a lump or swollen glands in the neck, difficulty swallowing or breathing.

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