What is Childhood Cancer?
Childhood cancer (also called pediatric cancer) typically means a cancer that is found in children and teens, and sometimes young adults. It is not just one disease. There are many types, which can be found in different places throughout the body.
The most common cancer in children is leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Cancer can also occur in organs and tissues such as the lymph nodes (lymphoma), nervous system (brain tumors) and muscles, bone and skin (solid tumors).
- An estimated 400,000 children around the world develop cancer each year, only half of whom are ever diagnosed.
- Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy for U.S. children.
- However, thanks to better therapies, more than 80% of U.S. childhood cancer patients now become long-term survivors.
- Survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer.
- About 483,000 childhood cancer survivors live in the U.S., with many more around the world.
What Causes Cancer in Children?
The causes of childhood cancer are not completely understood. While adult cancers are often linked to lifestyle or environmental factors, cancer in children is different in several ways.
In a young person, cancer is less likely to be caused by the patient’s environment or lifestyle. Most scientists agree that cancer-causing genetic changes (called mutations) are most commonly thought to occur by chance. However, in about 8% of cases children are born with genetic changes that increase their risk of getting cancer.
Learning what genetic changes caused a cancer can help doctors diagnose it more effectively. Going forward, this information may also help scientists develop better treatments.
Six forms of cancers are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). By vaccinating children between ages 9 and 12, 90% of these cancers can be prevented. The virus can cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and oral/throat cancers in adults. Prevent your child from developing cancer in the future: vVaccinate against HPV. Learn more.
Treating Cancer in Children
Treatment depends on the type of cancer. Treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or sometimes immunotherapy. Sometimes a patient receives more than one of these treatments.
The length of time needed for treatment differs depending on the type of cancer. In general, treatments take several months or even years.
Researchers and doctors are working on new therapies for children with cancer. Some of these treatments, called precision medicine, target specific genetic changes in the cancer.
Learn more: Treatment Programs >
After Treatment: Becoming a Long-Term Survivor
After cancer treatment is complete, patients often continue to receive follow-up care. Sometimes this care lasts for many years.
Cancer treatments save lives, but can cause health issues later in life. Childhood cancer survivors should take care of their health, get regular checkups and give their local doctor details about their cancer history.
Learn more: Childhood Cancer Survivor Resources >