How is childhood cancer diagnosed?

Author:  GescheTallen, MD, PhD, Editor:  Maria Yiallouros, Reviewer:  Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h. c. Günter Henze, English Translation:  Hannah McRae, Last modification: 2012/04/25

There are many different types of cancer in children and teenagers. Therefore and partially dependent on the patient's age and also on the symptoms, different tests are often necessary to obtain a diagnosis.

Children and teenagers with symptoms indicative of cancer should immediately be referred to a children's hospital with an oncology-unit. There, different childhood cancer specialists (such as paediatric oncologists, surgeons, anaestesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, and many others specialised in and routinely dealing with young cancer patients) will team up to systematically approach the patient's situation. Following a thorough assessment of the patient's history and a detailed physical exam, blood tests and various diagnostic imaging are usually performed to get further information. However, in most cases, the definite diagnosis of cancer is made in the laboratory by microscopic and other specifically developed examinations of either a small piece of the tumour obtained by surgery or a sample of bone marrow obtained by a bone marrow-biopsy.

Screening tests for cancer like they are recommended for the adult population have not proven to be efficient for the early detection of cancers in the young. One of the reasons for this observation might be the usually rapid progression of childhood cancers.