How pediatric cancer is typically diagnosed

Stuart E. Siegel, MD, shares advice for parents with a child with pediatric cancer and explains how pediatric cancer is typically diagnosed
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How pediatric cancer is typically diagnosed

Most of the time childhood cancer is diagnosed because of specific symptoms. There are situations where it's first picked up during the general yearly visit to the pediatrician. Which I, by the way, highly recommend. Because, sometimes when that happens, it's picked up early. Which is a good thing. But, the vast majority of times it's with specific symptoms. And, it depends on the kind of cancer. For instance, leukemias or cancers of blood and bone marrow are usually picked up by a drop in a normal blood counts. That cause excessive bleeding, anemia. You're pale, you're tired. Sometimes intermittent fevers that won't go away. Where as solid tumors are usually picked up because of the pain or discomfort, or even a lump that someone sees. There is a particular kind of cancer in the eye, in the children, called retinoblastoma, which is picked up by the mother, or often the grandmother, happing to notice in the child that the pupil is white, instead of the usual red color. That's because the tumor is growing in the back of your eye. It's called the cat's eye. So, it just depends on the kind of cancer that tells you that there may be something going on. Brain cancer, as I said, is the most solid common cancer that we see in children. Most of the time brain cancers present with one of the few symptoms. Either severe headache, nausea and vomiting, particularly in the morning due to increased brain pressure caused by the tumor. A neurological change like a weakness or loss of sensation. Or even a seizure that indicates something is going on in the brain. Loss of a use of a leg or an arm. Or some subtle symptom like that, that would tell you something is going on in the brain. Sometimes visual or hearing abnormalities can be a symptom of this as well. So, it's usually related to what the tumor is doing inside the brain that makes the symptom, that makes you to detect that something is going on in that area.

Stuart E. Siegel, MD, shares advice for parents with a child with pediatric cancer and explains how pediatric cancer is typically diagnosed


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Stuart E. Siegel, MD

Director, Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Before recently shifting his focus to international medicine, Stuart Siegel, MD, was Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology for 35 years and the founding director of the the Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Professor and Head of the Division of Hematology-Oncology Department of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. He remains a leader in supportive care and research in pediatric oncology, with a special focus on neuroblastoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Ewing Sarcoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and brain tumors. From developing the first pediatric protective environment in 1971 for children undergoing intensive chemotherapy, to pioneering current efforts to develop academic and clinical care programs nationally and locally for adolescents and young adults with cancer, Dr. Siegel’s contributions have revolutionized the field of pediatric oncology. Dr. Siegel has been honored for his work by the American Cancer Society, Children Foundation, the Cancer Foundation, the Chase Foundation, Padres Contra El Cancer, the Israel Cancer Research Fund and Ronald McDonald House Charities, where he is a member of the National Board, and has consistently been listed among the nation’s top doctors in such publications asAmerica’s Top Doctors and Best Doctors in America. He is a father of one son, Joshua; grandfather of David and Elijah; and lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife of seven years.

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