Cancer affects only about 14 of every 100,000 children in the United States each year. In most cases, childhood cancers arise from non-inherited mutations (or changes) in the genes of growing cells. Because these errors occur randomly and unpredictably, there's no effective way to prevent them.
Children can get cancer in the same parts of the body as adults, but there are differences. Childhood cancers can occur suddenly, without early symptoms, and have a high rate of cure. The most common children's cancer is leukemia. Other cancers that affect children include brain tumors, lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma.
Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and find out if it has metastasized (spread). Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. For most types of cancer, a biopsy or surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis. Imaging tests may be used to find out whether the cancer has metastasized.
In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose childhood cancer:
- Blood tests
- Bone marrow aspiration (removal of a sample of bone marrow)
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Computed Tomography (CT or CAT) scan
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan