Pediatric Cancer | Pediatrics


Pediatric Cancer

We offer the latest therapies for children and opportunities to take part in clinical trials. Our compassionate staff and child life specialists support every aspect of your family and child’s well-being.

Medically reviewed by Anjali Pawar, M.D. on Nov. 28, 2023.

A child life specialist and pediatric patient laughing in the hospital

Support for Your Child’s Cancer Journey

At UC Davis Health Comprehensive Cancer Center, we offer the only program in the region for managing the long-term effects of cancer treatment in children. Our long-term effects specialists will continue to support your child in the years after treatment.


Types of Pediatric Cancers

Pediatric cancers, also called childhood cancers, are cancers that occur in children and teenagers. The most common childhood cancers are:

Survival rates depend on the type of cancer. Children who survive cancer face higher risks of getting cancer again and other health problems. 


Symptoms of Cancer in Children

It can be hard to recognize cancer symptoms in children. Sometimes symptoms don’t look like a sign of something serious.

Common Symptoms

Childhood cancer symptoms may include:

  • Bruising easily
  • Changes in the eyes or vision that happen suddenly
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Frequent fevers or infections
  • Nausea or vomiting that don’t go away
  • Swelling, lumps or masses that you can see or feel
  • Unexplained weight loss

Emergency Symptoms

Childhood cancer symptoms that require medical treatment right away include:

  • Sudden vision loss
  • Severe headaches
  • Severe change in muscle strength or how a child walks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to lay flat in bed

Causes of Cancer in Children

With many childhood cancers, the cause is unknown. However, in rare cases, there are some inherited or familial conditions that can predispose a child to cancer.

Genetic Mutations

Childhood cancers are caused by genetic mutations. These gene changes can cause growth of abnormal cells that become cancerous. Children with Down syndrome have a higher risk of certain cancers, such as leukemia.

Inherited Conditions

Certain rare genetic conditions may cause cancer in children. Examples include Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Gorlin’s syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis and von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.


Risk Factors for Childhood Cancer

Chemical Exposure

Exposure to some chemicals, such as pesticides, solvents in cleaners or air pollutants, may increase risk.

Immunosuppressant Drugs

These medications make it harder for your child’s immune system to destroy cancer cells on their own.

Radiation Exposure

Radiation may increase the risk of childhood leukemia and other cancers by causing mutations in cells.


Diagnosing Pediatric Cancers

We offer state-of-the-art techniques and equipment for cancer diagnosis. Diagnosis for suspected childhood cancer often starts with blood tests. A blood test may be the only test needed to diagnose leukemia and lymphoma.

Other cancers usually require additional tests. These may include:

  • Ultrasound: This scan uses soundwaves to create an image that shows the location of tumors.
  • CT scan: The scan provides a detailed picture for visual detection of tumors.
  • MRI: The scan gives an image of your child’s internal organs and body structures.
  • PET scan: This type of imaging helps identify abnormal cells in the body that may be cancerous.
  • MIBG scan: A scan that uses nuclear imaging to help assess neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Biopsy: A surgical oncologist removes a small tissue sample to examine it for cancer cells.
  • Lumbar puncture: A specialist uses a needle to remove a sample of spinal fluid and then analyzes it for cancer cells.

Pediatric Cancer Treatments at UC Davis Health

At the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center’s pediatric oncology program, a team of specialists work together to provide the most advanced care for your child. We also offer support services for parents and siblings.

If your child needs an extended hospital stay, UC Davis Children’s Hospital is among the top children’s hospitals in the nation.

Treatment depends on the type of cancer your child has, how advanced it is and which areas of the body it affects. Pediatric cancer treatment may include one or more therapies. 


“Chemo” involves using drugs that stop cancer cell growth. We provide intravenous (IV) chemotherapy treatments in a relaxed, friendly area. 

Explore our pediatric infusion center

This treatment uses drugs that boost your child’s immune system to help it destroy cancer cells.

Learn more about immunotherapy at UC Davis Health
Radiation Therapy

This treatment is often used with chemotherapy, immunotherapy or surgery. It uses powerful radiation to destroy cancer cells to stop tumor growth. We offer the most precise, state-of-the-art radiation techniques available.

Learn about radiation therapy
Stem Cell Transplant

This treatment is sometimes called a bone marrow transplant. It uses your child’s own stem cells or a donor’s stem cells to make other types of healthy cells. This improves recovery following other treatments. We’re a designated National Marrow Donor Program Transplant Center, which gives us access to over 22 million registered stem cell donors.

Discover our stem cell transplant program

For this treatment, a surgical oncologist removes tumors and sometimes nearby tissue. We offer highly specialized procedures for removing tumors in any area of your child’s body.

Learn about cancer surgery at UC Davis Health

Preventing Childhood Cancers

Many of the causes of childhood cancers are genetic and thus not preventable. If your child has any risk factors, it’s important to keep up with scheduled physician visits and ask about cancer screening. With proper family history, they may be detected early but they are not preventable.

Who does it affect?

300KChildren worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year

Leukemia makes up

28%Of childhood cancers

Sources: American Childhood Cancer Organization: U.S. Childhood Cancer Statistics

American Cancer Society: Types of Cancers that Develop in Children 

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