Cancer In Babies – Causes, Symptoms & Treatments You Should Be Aware Of

Cancer In Babies

Image : Shutterstock

Do you know the deadly disease of cancer can affect even babies? Although cancer in babies is rare, it is one of the leading causes of disease-related death in United States of America. However, the actual cause of pediatric cancer is not well-understood. The good news is that the survival rates of some forms of cancer in babies have significantly increased. At the same time, for some other forms, the survival rate remains low. (1)

What Is Cancer?

Cancer refers to a collection of related diseases.Ideally,it is an uncontrolled state of the cells to multiply rapidly and soon spread to surrounding tissues resulting in tumors.(2)

 Causes Of Cancer in Babies :

You should have come across this recent news. Baby food firms have been instructed by the Britain’s food standards to change the seals on their jars. The move has come due to the fear of contamination of a cancer-causing toxin, semicarbazide, in the seals of glass jars and bottles containing many baby foods.(3)

Similarly, many usually neglected reasons, like those given below, can become cancer-causing agents for your baby.

  • Different exposure to environmental hazards can cause children to be affected by toxins. However, if it is environmental or lifestyle factors that cause cancer in older babies. It is usually DNA changes in the cells that affect the infants.
  • The underdeveloped physiological systems in the children’s body to fight these toxins make them ideal candidates. The “developmental windows”, or the major phases of growth and development in children can thus also be “critical windows of vulnerability.


The type of cancers in babies differ from those that affect adults. Still the signs of cancer in babies are more or less the same.

  • Sudden and drastic weight loss
  • Bleeding Drowsiness or turning pale
  • Lower levels of immunity
  • Vomiting in the early morning
  • Sweating
  • Lump in the neck, abdomen, pelvis, chest or armpit.

[ Read: Congenital Heart Disease In Babies ]

Diagnosis Of Symptoms:

The incidence of infant cancer is diagnosed through number of tests like the ones in discussion. A baby with cancer should undergo these tests.

  • Biopsy  A sample of tissue from the body is examined to detect the presence of tumor.
  • Blood test  The count of the blood cells can be determined to check abnormality.
  • Ultrasound scan  Gives a better picture of the internal body.
  • X- ray scan  Helps find any abnormal development within the body.
  • Lumber puncture  A sample from around the spinal cord undergoes examination.

In some cases, other tests like CT scan, MRI scan, and PET scan are also conducted depending on their age and other medical concerns.

Sometimes,symptoms of cancer in babies can be detected even before their birth through ultrasound scans. However, it is difficult to diagnose cancer in babies after birth, as their irritability and restlessness owing to illness are neglected.

[ Read: Signs Of Lead Poisoning In Babies ]

Different Types Of Pediatric Cancer:

1. Neuroblastoma:

Neuroblastoma is the most prominent form of cancer in the first year of life for babies. With a survival rate of less than half of the infected, studies are in plenty to find an effective solution to cure the disease completely.Neuroblastoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the immature nerve cells of the developing nervous system. The tumor mostly develops around the spine, abdomen or the adrenal gland. The major symptoms include an enlarged kidney, high blood pressure, inability to walk, diarrhea and body pain.

[ Read: Causes of High Blood Pressure In Babies ]

2. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL):

One of the most common forms of cancer in children, around 34% of all childhood cancers are ALL. A more common tumor in boys between two and four years, this Leukemia takes its origin in bone marrow. It is then spread to the blood, followed by other organs. Few of the major symptoms of this cancer are severe pain in the joints and bones, fatigue, bleeding and fever.

3. Wilms Tumor:

This form of cancer originates in the kidney and is the commonest kind of kidney cancer in children. Usually affecting just one of the kidneys, in rare cases, Wilms Tumor can affect both the kidneys and turn more serious. Children between three to four years are usually affected and is rarely visible in those above six years. Swelling in the belly, nausea and poor appetite are few of its symptoms.

4. Brain Tumor:

Around 27% of childhood, tumors constitute brain tumor and other nervous system related cancers. Ideally, the cancer affects the lower part of the brain as the cerebellum or the brain stem and then proceeds to spread further. Some of the common symptoms to look for in babies are headaches, balance problems, frequent vomiting and trouble with vision and speech.

5. Lymphoma:

Mainly affecting lymphocytes, specific cells of the immune system, lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and tissue. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or waist, weight loss, sweat and general weakness are the usual symptoms. (4)

6. Rhabdomyosarcoma:

Around 3% of all childhood cancers fall into this category. The tumor ideally develops in the cells which later form the skeletal muscles. The muscles that we control to move different parts of the body though is the main target location of the tumor; other parts are also affected. The head, neck, waist, an arm or leg can be few of the starting locations of this kind of tumor.

7. Bone Cancer:

Most commonly visible form of bone cancer in children is primary bone cancer. This kind of cancer originates in the bone. In contrast, the metastatic bone cancer starts at some other part of the body and then spreads to the bone. However, most cancers in adults can be metastatic in nature, as cancers when chronic easily spreads to the bone. Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma are the two major forms of cancer in children. While the former targets the growing bones, the latter affects the pelvis, chest bones or the middle of the long leg bones. Swelling and severe bone pain are the common symptoms of both these cancers.

8. Retinoblastoma:

Cancer of the eye which usually affects children as young as two years old is retinoblastoma. Unusually white or pink color of the pupil is the significant symptom of this form of cancer. Almost two per cent of childhood cancers accounts to retinoblastoma.(5)

General Treatments:

The treatments usually vary from person to person depending on both the type of cancer and the level of its intensity. The usual treatment options include surgery, immune therapy, stem cell therapy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy among many others. However, doctors try to avoid resorting to radiation for treatment in babies. It is because, an exposure to radiation can retard their growth and might also become a triggering factor for the development of a second cancer later in life. Babies with cancer need to have regular checkups throughout their life. The possibility of having side effects or getting a second cancer cannot be fully overruled.(6)

Do you know the survival stories of babies who could overcome cancer? Please share with us, we are keen to know.

Recommended Articles:

The following two tabs change content below.
Profile photo of Keerthy Ramachandran

Latest posts by Keerthy Ramachandran (see all)

Profile photo of Keerthy Ramachandran

Keerthy Ramachandran

Featured Image