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Warning Signs – Childhood Cancers

An average of 800 to 1 000 children are newly diagnosed with cancer annually in South Africa.

It is estimated that at least half of all children with cancer in South Africa are never diagnosed.

Two thirds of children with cancer never reach a specialist treatment centre for treatment in South Africa. The majority of those that present, are in advanced stages of the illness.

If detected early, most children can be treated successfully.

Having knowledge of the early warning signs of childhood cancer is vital so that cancer can be detected early and treatment can commence as soon as possible.

Childhood cancers share general symptoms with other illnesses, but if one or more of the following symptoms persist, seek medical assistance immediately.

Children with cancer need to receive the right treatment, preferably in a paediatric oncology unit read more about types of cancers affecting children in South Africa.

Warning Signs Childhood Cancer

CANSA’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Programme is aimed at educating the public on the early warning signs and in South Africa:

The advice given to parents by CANSA should they have any concerns about their child showing symptoms, is that they need to seek medical help immediately.


  • Seek medical help for prolonged symptoms
  • Should the child receive treatment and the symptoms don’t go away on completion of treatment, seek help from the same clinic / doctor (you are also entitled to a second opinion)
  • When symptoms are gone after treatment and they return, seek help
  • A white spot in the eye can be cancer of the eye
  • A new squint or new blindness can be a cancer of the brain
  • A bulging eye can be a cancer of the eye that has been there for long, or it can be a cancer behind the eye
  • A lump can be in the abdomen, pelvis, head, neck, limbs, testes and glands
  • Every lump must be referred to a doctor
  • A TB lump should go away after two weeks of treatment, if not, seek help
  • A lump can be felt and if it grows in size, seek medical assistance
  • Unexplained fever for more than two weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Unexplained pallor (paleness) or purpura (red / purple discolouration of the skin)
  • Unexplained bruises or persistent oozing from the mouth or nose
  • Unexplained fatigue (tiredness)
  • Unexplained easy bruising or bleeding
  • Aching bones, joints and backache are usually associated with Leukaemia
  • A child should never get backache
  • Aching bones, joints and easy fractures are usually associated with bone cancer or Osteogenic Sarcomas (this type of cancer usually affects children in their adolescence)
  • Regression of milestones (a child who has reached normal developmental milestones, suddenly starts to lose some of these functions and does not progress with development)
  • Change or deterioration in walk (Ataxia = walks unsteadily), balance or speech
  • Slurred speech
  • Headache for more than a week, with or without vomiting
  • Enlarging head
  • Early morning vomiting
  • Cranial nerve palsy (nerves that affect facial muscles – looks like the child had a stroke)

Top 5 SA Children’s Cancers & Symptoms

Queries CANSA

For further information regarding symptoms or support for children / teens with cancer, as well as for their family members, please contact Anina Meiring, CANSA Tough Living with Cancer (TLC) programme, email: or phone the toll free line at 0800 22 66 22.

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 0800 22 6622 Toll Free
 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans (text only)
 071 867 3530 isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi (text only)


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