Hesperian Health Guides

Cancer in Children

Cancer in childhood is uncommon. The most common cancers in children are leukemia (blood cancer) or a brain tumor. In general, childhood cancers are more easily treated and cured than adult cancers.

Most cancers in children are not easy to identify. Usually, the signs are vague, like ongoing weight loss, headaches with vomiting in the morning, lasting swelling or pain, lasting fevers, or unusual bruising or bleeding. All of these can be signs of other problems — some serious, some not. If a child has any lasting health problems, she should have a medical exam with a health worker.

a boy with a swollen cheek.

Burkitt’s lymphoma

Especially in parts of Africa, a common childhood cancer is Burkitt’s lymphoma. It starts as a lump on the face, on the upper or lower jaw. Unlike mumps, or the swollen glands common with HIV, only one side of the face swells and it swells very quickly. It can double in size in one day. It is not painful, though very early on it may cause discomfort. The teeth near the swelling are usually displaced or loosened. It can also be mistaken for a tooth abscess.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy. When treatment starts early, it is usually very successful.

This page was updated:25 Nov 2019