Symptoms and Diagnosis of Carcinomas and Other Rare Solid Tumors in Children

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Carcinomas and Other Rare Solid Tumors in Children


What are the symptoms of carcinomas and other rare tumors in kids?

These tumors can cause many symptoms, depending on their size and where they are. Tumors can cause a lump or pain that does not go away on its own. Some tumors affect the amounts of certain hormones, and that makes your child feel sick.

If your child has symptoms that do not go away on their own, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. Many of these symptoms are also caused by routine childhood illnesses. Your child’s healthcare provider can learn what is causing your child’s symptoms.

Here are the symptoms caused by different types of carcinomas and other conditions.

Adrenocortical carcinoma symptoms

Adrenocortical carcinomas in children most often happen between the ages of 1 and 4. Symptoms of adrenocortical tumors include:

  • Pain in the back or abdomen (belly)
  • A lump or feeling of fullness in the belly
  • High blood pressure
  • Acne
  • Growing too much body hair
  • Growing faster than normal
  • Having a deeper voice
  • Enlarged (bigger) genitalia (sex organs) because of hormone levels that are not normal
Digestive cancer symptoms

Cancer in the digestive system of a child or adolescent can cause symptoms, such as:

  • Belly pain
  • Constipation, when it’s hard to have bowel movements (poop)
  • Diarrhea, which is a loose or watery bowel movement, having more bowel movements than normal, or both
  • Weight loss for no reason
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain with eating
  • Blood in the stool (poop)
  • Feeling tired

Digestive neuroendocrine tumors in children most often form in the appendix. They may cause:

  • Belly pain that often happens with appendicitis
  • Fever
  • Nausea (feeling like throwing up) and vomiting (throwing up)
  • Diarrhea

A neuroendocrine tumor outside the appendix can make certain hormones. This causes carcinoid syndrome, when the tumor makes too much of a hormone called serotonin. Your child’s symptoms can include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Redness and warmth in the upper chest, neck, and face
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Diarrhea

Tumors in the pancreas or intestines can make a hormone called gastrin. This may cause very bad heartburn or stomach ulcers.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma symptoms

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma most often happens in older children. A cancer in the nose or throat causes symptoms such as:

  • Nasal congestion or stuffiness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pain in the head, ear, mouth, throat, neck, or jaw
  • Problems with speaking or seeing
Melanoma and other skin cancer symptoms

Melanoma is a cancer of the skin cells that make the pigment or melanin (color) of our skin. It may look like a mole that has changed in size, shape, color, or border appearance. It may also become itchy or bleed. 

Thyroid carcinoma symptoms

Cancers of the thyroid gland most often cause a lump in the neck. They can also cause changes in your child’s:

  • Breathing, or how they talk
  • Energy level
  • Skin and hair
  • Blood levels of calcium
Pleuropulmonary blastoma symptoms

Pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB) in children most often causes a cough and trouble breathing. Your child may get many lung infections.

How MSK diagnoses pediatric carcinomas and rare tumors

If your child’s doctors think they may have a carcinoma or other tumor, they will order tests. The choice of tests depends on the type of cancer they think your child has. Tests can include:

  • Blood tests to look for hormones and proteins called tumor markers that are made by these tumors.
  • Urine tests to look at levels of certain hormones that may change in children with adrenocortical tumors.
  • X-rays, which let us see an area inside your body. They’re the oldest and most common type of medical imaging scan.
  • Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to make still or moving pictures of areas in the body.
  • CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, which make 3D images of areas inside the body.
  • Colonoscopy, the use of a flexible lighted tube with a camera at its tip. It’s used to look for colorectal tumors inside the colon and rectum.
  • Dexamethasone suppression tests, where your child will get the drug dexamethasone to see how their adrenal glands respond. Doctors look at how much of the hormone cortisol the glands make.
  • Adrenal angiography and venography, which are tests to see the blood vessels around the adrenal gland.
  • Somatostatin scintigraphy, also called an octreotide scan. This test helps diagnose neuroendocrine tumors.

Tumor tissue biopsy and genetic testing

If doctors see a tumor on a scan, they may do a biopsy. This is a procedure to removes some cells or tissue through a small needle.

A pathologist then examines the tumor tissue sample to confirm the tumor type. A pathologist is a doctor who uses a microscope and other tools to make a diagnosis. Our pathologists are highly trained in diagnosing rare tumors in children.

Our team also looks at tumor gene mutations using an advanced tumor tissue test. This test was developed at MSK and is called MSK-IMPACT®. The results of this test can help doctors match your child with the best treatments for their tumor.

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