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Every diagnosis of childhood cancer is different.
But the path often begins when a child has signs and symptoms that prompt a parent to take them to see their health care provider.
The signs and symptoms of childhood cancer can be like common childhood illnesses and injuries. Because childhood cancer is so rare, the provider may not suspect it at first.
The first step of diagnosis is a physical exam. Your health care provider also asks about your child’s medical history. They look at general health, including signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
The doctor may also do a neurological exam . It tests how well the nervous system works. It can include an exam of awareness and interaction, motor function and balance, and ability to sense temperature or pressure.
These are some of the tests used to diagnose childhood cancer:
When choosing a diagnostic test, the provider may consider:
Importance of a biopsy
For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only way to get an accurate diagnosis. In a biopsy, the health care provider takes a small sample of tissue. This sample is sent for testing in a lab. If a biopsy is not possible, the provider may suggest other tests to help make a diagnosis. Other tests are then needed to know the specific type of cancer, its stage, and genetic makeup.
If test results suggest cancer, the health care provider will likely refer the patient to a pediatric cancer center for further tests to diagnose the specific type of cancer.
Members of the medical team will discuss the results of tests with parents or guardians. The team and family work together to develop a treatment plan. The care team will use test results to help plan the best treatment.
It is normal to feel scared and overwhelmed when your child has cancer. Your care team can help you. Treatments for childhood cancers are improving all the time. Talk to your care team about resources for you and your family.
Reviewed: May 2023