Mom Feels 4-Year-Old's Aching Belly and Discovers Rare Cancer

A 4-year-old girl was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer after her mom felt something hard in her belly.

In December 2020, mother of two Shirley Hepworth, from West Yorkshire in the U.K., suspected that her daughter, Beau, had constipation or appendicitis, when she complained of an ache in her abdomen.

When she developed a lump days later, Shirley Hepworth took her to the hospital, where scans revealed a tumor roughly the same size as a football.

After an initial misdiagnosis, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that mainly affects children under the age of 5, and that the cancer had also spread to her bones.

She was given a 50 percent chance of survival, according to U.K. tabloid The Sun.

One of the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma is a large lump or swelling in the child's abdomen.

Symptoms are wide-ranging, and also include swelling in the legs, upper chest, neck or face, breathing problems, weight loss, bruising around the eyes, pain in the bones, and difficulties passing food and drink.

"As mums do, I had a feel of her tummy, not knowing what I was looking for, and one side was rock hard," her mom told The Sun on Monday.

There are between 700 to 800 new cases of neuroblastoma in the U.S. each year, according to the American Cancer Society, and children, at high risk, require the most aggressive courses of treatment.

Now aged 5, Beau Hepworth has undergone high-dose chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor, a stem cell transplant, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy.

The intensive treatment reportedly left her unable to eat, drink or talk for three months, and further complications arose when she started experiencing breathing difficulties and mucositis, a side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that inflames the mouth and digestive system.

Neuroblastoma treatment is often carried out in three phases, and Hepworth is currently in her final phase.

However, doctors have said that she has a high chance of relapsing, in which case her prospects of long-term survival would be just 10 percent.

Her mom is, therefore, trying to raise £317,000 (nearly $430,000) in order for her daughter to take part in a cancer vaccine trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

But she is also facing a race against time, as Hepworth would need to begin the trial within 45 days of her final neuroblastoma scans, which are due to take place in late April.

"If she relapses, the outlook is very bleak," her mom said.

"If this trial succeeds, it could become part of frontline treatment in the future, so that the next generation of children won't have to face that one in 10 survival rate. That could be a thing of the past."

A child's hand in a hospital bed
Stock image of a hand. Beau Hepworth was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma at the age of 4. AgFang/iStock