Early Cancer Detection For Teens: What You Need to Look Out For

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An oncologist shares important signs to look out for and why regular checkups are a must

Did you know that teens are more at risk for certain types of cancer? It’s a scary thought, especially since they’re so young. When we think of cancer, we usually think of people in their 50s or older — not young adults. But here’s the thing — it happens and yes, it can be prevented. Dr Ysabel Lesaca-Medina of Makati Medical Center’s Oncology department shares common cancers teens can be susceptible to and the symptoms to look out for:

Leukemia

The most common form of cancer among children under 15, leukemia, targets blood cells. Symptoms to look out for include fatigue, easily bruising, breathlessness and pain in the joints and bones.

Lymphoma

This cancer begins in the immune system, which is our body’s natural defense mechanism against bacteria and infection. There are two main types, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and both can manifest in very young patients. “We can usually tell a child has Hodgkin
lymphoma when they exhibit swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, weight loss, and fever,” explains Dr. Lesaca-Medina “Those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma usually complain about breathing difficulty and swollen lymph nodes.”

Brain tumors

There are several kinds of benign and cancerous brain tumors, each with their own set of symptoms and effects. Still, brain cancer is the second most common cancer among young ones after leukemia. Dr. Lesaca-Medina says that patients with brain cancer complain of headaches, especially in
the morning.

She adds that they also tend to report vomiting, nausea, seizures, and problems in sight, balance, speech, and hearing. “Parents should also look out for unusual mood swings and behavioral changes” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. “Drowsiness and a shift in their energy levels can also be a cause for concern.”

Thyroid cancer

This type of cancer develops when malignant cells form in the tissues of the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the neck. “Papillary thyroid cancer occurs often in teens. It can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and the lungs,” explains Dr. Lesaca-Medina. She says that symptoms of papillary thyroid cancer include feeling a lump or swelling in the neck, problems with breathing and swallowing, and hoarseness in the voice. “The silver lining here is that treatment for thyroid cancer has a high success rate, so people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help as early as possible,” says Dr. Lesaca-
Medina.

Ovarian cancer

Did you know that teenage girls can get ovarian cancer? The problem is that many of the symptoms, like pain, swelling, or a lump in the abdomen, are hard to tell apart from the common period. The thing to remember is that if you have ovarian cancer, you will experience these symptoms even if you aren’t on your period. “Teenage girls with ovarian cancer will also go through puberty earlier than usual, and have painful menstrual periods,” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. “They also tend to miss some of their periods.”

If your teen is experiencing any of the symptoms above, make an appointment ASAP. Remember, cancer isn’t a death sentence. The earlier its detected, the better chances you have of defeating it.

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