Lisa Diller, MD, chief medical officer at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, was asked to answer these important questions.
What signs might lead a child’s pediatrician to suspect cancer?
Cancer is very diverse, and diagnosis is further complicated because many signs and symptoms—like fever, bruising and headaches—are normal in healthy children.
Pediatricians are extremely skilled at distinguishing the usual bumps and pains from the concerning ones. They sense which symptoms truly need evaluation and astutely order tests based on the character, duration and severity of symptoms—and oftentimes their own instinct—to properly diagnose children.
What advice do you have for parents whose child has been diagnosed with cancer?
For most pediatric cancers, parents should remain positive. Cure rates have been steadily improving.
For instance, nearly 90 percent of children with standard acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of pediatric cancer, are cured with current therapy, and the long-term cure rate for Hodgkin lymphoma is 97 percent. The five-year survival rate for all childhood cancers combined is 83 percent, up from 58 percent in the mid-1970s. Many families have experience with cancer in elderly adult relatives, and it’s important to keep in mind the good prognosis in children.