A cancer diagnosis is upsetting at any age, but especially so when the patient is a child. It’s natural to have many questions, such as, Who should treat my child? Will my child get well? What does all of this mean for our family? Not all questions have answers, but the information and resources on this page provide a starting point for understanding the basics of childhood cancer.

Types of Cancer in Children

In the United States in 2019, an estimated 11,060 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among children from birth to 14 years, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease. Although cancer death rates for this age group have declined by 65 percent from 1970 to 2016, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 years are leukemias, brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumors, and lymphomas.

Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer

Late effects are health problems that occur months or years after treatment has ended.
Late effects in childhood cancer survivors affect the body and mind.
There are three important factors that affect the risk of late effects.
The chance of having late effects increases over time.
Regular follow-up care is very important for survivors of childhood cancer.
Good health habits are also important for survivors of childhood cancer.

Late effects are health problems that occur months or years after treatment has ended.

The treatment of cancer may cause health problems for childhood cancer survivors months or years after successful treatment has ended. Cancer treatments may harm the body’s organs, tissues, or bones and cause health problems later in life. These health problems are called late effects.

Treatments that may cause late effects include the following:

  • Surgery.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Stem cell transplant.

Doctors are studying the late effects caused by cancer treatment. They are working to improve cancer treatments and stop or lessen late effects. While most late effects are n

Late effects in childhood cancer survivors affect the body and mind.

Late effects in childhood cancer survivors may affect the following:

  • Organs, tissues, and body function.
  • Growth and development.
  • Mood, feelings, and actions.
  • Thinking, learning, and memory.
  • Social and psychological adjustment.
  • Risk of second cancers.

Pediatric Supportive Care

  • The goal of supportive care is to improve the quality of life for young cancer patients and their families.
  • Cancer in children is different from cancer in adults.
  • Children of different ages need different treatment and support.
  • A child’s circle of family and friends may be larger than it usually is for adults.
  • Most decisions about care will be made by the child’s parents or guardians.

Cancer in children is different from cancer in adults.

Cancer in children and young adults is different from cancer that develops later in life. Childhood cancers usually do not act like adult cancers and are not treated the same way:

  • Treatment

    In general, treatments for childhood cancer use higher doses of chemotherapy and radiation than is used for adults. These treatments may also be given over a shorter amount of time than in adults. This is because children can receive more intense treatment (higher doses given over a shorter time) than adults can, before serious side effects occur.

  • Side effects

    Some of the unwanted side effects of cancer treatments cause more harm to children than they do to adults. This is because children’s bodies are still growing and developing, so cancer and its treatment are more likely to affect developing organs.

    Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may happen right away or weeks or years after treatment. Cancer treatment may also affect a child’s growth or cause a second cancer to form. Problems that appear weeks or years after treatment are called late effects. Because of possible late effects, childhood cancer survivors need life-long follow-up. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).

  • Supportive care

    The types of supportive care given to children may be different from those used for adults. For example, certain medicines used to control symptoms in adults may not be safe for children.

Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment

  • Unusual cancers of childhood are cancers rarely seen in children.
  • Tests are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage unusual cancers of childhood.
  • There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
  • Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

Unusual cancers of childhood are cancers rarely seen in children.

Cancer in children and adolescents is rare. Since 1975, the number of new cases of childhood cancer has slowly increased. Since 1975, the number of deaths from childhood cancer has decreased by more than half.

The unusual cancers discussed in this summary are so rare that most children’s hospitals are likely to see less than a handful of some types in several years. Because the unusual cancers are so rare, there is not a lot of information about what treatment works best. A child’s treatment is often based on what has been learned from treating other children. Sometimes, information is available only from reports of the diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of one child or a small group of children who were given the same type of treatment.

Childhood Cancer Genomics

Research teams from around the world have made remarkable progress in the past decade in elucidating the genomic landscape of most types of childhood cancer. A decade ago it was possible to hope that targetable oncogenes, such as activated tyrosine kinases, might be identified in a high percentage of childhood cancers. However, it is now clear that the genomic landscape of childhood cancer is highly varied, and in many cases is quite distinctive from that of the common adult cancers.

 

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.