Childhood Cancers

Childhood Cancers

Childhood Cancers

2017-camp-fantastic-groupA 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.


At Camp Fantastic, a joint venture of NCI and Special Love Camps, children at all stages of cancer treatment can enjoy traditional camp activities.

Credit: Special Love, Inc.

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.

Treating Childhood Cancer

Children's cancers are not always treated like adult cancers. Pediatric oncology is a medical specialty focused on the care of children with cancer. It's important to know that this expertise exists and that there are effective treatments for many childhood cancers.

Types of Treatment

There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that a child with cancer receives will depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Common treatments include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplant. Learn about these and other therapies in our Types of Treatment section.

The Latest Expert-Reviewed Information

NCI’s PDQ® pediatric treatment cancer information summaries explain diagnosis, staging, and treatment options for children's cancers.

Our summary about Childhood Cancer Genomics describes the genomic alterations associated with different pediatric cancers, and their significance for therapy and prognosis.

Clinical Trials

Section of the infographic on the pediatric MATCH study


This trial is studying treatments targeted to tumor alterations in children and adolescents with advanced cancer.

Before any new treatment can be made widely available to patients, it must be studied in clinical trials (research studies) and found to be safe and effective in treating disease. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials.

Our site has information about how clinical trials work. Information specialists who staff NCI’s Cancer Information Service can answer questions about the process and help identify ongoing clinical trials for children with cancer.

Treatment Effects

Children face unique issues during their treatment for cancer, after the completion of treatment, and as survivors of cancer. For example, they may receive more intense treatments, cancer and its treatments have different effects on growing bodies than adult bodies, and they may respond differently to drugs that control symptoms in adults. For more information, see the PDQ® Pediatric Supportive Care summary. Late effects of treatment are discussed later on this page in the Survivorship section.

Where Children with Cancer Are Treated

Children who have cancer are often treated at a children’s cancer center, which is a hospital or unit in a hospital that specializes in treating children with cancer. Most children’s cancer centers treat patients up to age 20.

The doctors and other health professionals at these centers have special training and expertise to give complete care to children. Specialists at a children’s cancer center are likely to include primary care physicians, pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists, pediatric surgical specialists, radiation oncologists, rehabilitation specialists, pediatric nurse specialists, social workers, and psychologists. At these centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children, and the opportunity to participate in a trial is offered to many patients.

Hospitals that have experts in treating children with cancer are usually member institutions of the NCI-supported Children’s Oncology Group (COG). COG is the world’s largest organization that conducts clinical research to improve the care and treatment of children with cancer. NCI's Cancer Information Service can help families find COG-affiliated hospitals.

At the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, NCI’s Pediatric Oncology Branchcares for children with cancer. Health professionals and scientists conduct translational research that spans basic science to clinical trials to improve outcomes for children and young adults with cancer and genetic tumor predisposition syndromes.

Coping with Cancer

Adjusting to a child’s cancer diagnosis and finding ways to stay strong is challenging for everyone in a family. Our page, Support for Families When a Child Has Cancer, has tips for talking with children about their cancer and preparing them for changes they may experience. Also included are ways to help brothers and sisters cope, steps parents can take when they need support, and tips for working with the health care team. Various aspects of coping and support are also discussed in the publication Children with Cancer: A Guide for Parents.



It’s essential for childhood cancer survivors to receive follow-up care to monitor their health after completing treatment. All survivors should have a treatment summary and a survivorship care plan, as discussed on our Care for Childhood Cancer Survivors page. That page also has information on clinics that specialize in providing follow-up care for people who have had childhood cancer.

Survivors of any kind of cancer can develop health problems months or years after cancer treatment, known as late effects, but late effects are of particular concern for childhood cancer survivors because treatment of children can lead to profound, lasting physical and emotional effects. Late effects vary with the type of cancer, the child’s age, the type of treatment, and other factors. Information on types of late effects and ways to manage these can be found on our Care for Childhood Cancer Survivors page. The PDQ® Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer summary has in-depth information.

Survivorship care and adjustments that both parents and children may go through are also discussed in the publication Children with Cancer: A Guide for Parents.

Cancer Causes

The causes of most childhood cancers are not known. About 5 percent of all cancers in children are caused by an inherited mutation (a genetic mutation that can be passed from parents to their children).

Most cancers in children, like those in adults, are thought to develop as a result of mutations in genes that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually cancer. In adults, these gene mutations reflect the cumulative effects of aging and long-term exposure to cancer-causing substances. However, identifying potential environmental causes of childhood cancer has been difficult, partly because cancer in children is rare and partly because it is difficult to determine what children might have been exposed to early in their development. More information about possible causes of cancer in children is available in the fact sheet, Cancer in Children and Adolescents.

10 common Questions about childhood cancer

1What are the odds of a child getting cancer?
Chances are that your child will not get cancer: the odds of your child developing cancer by the age of 19 is approximately 1 in 330. But, cancer is second only to accidents as a cause of death in children.
2How common is pediatric cancer?
How common is cancer in children? Although cancer in children is rare, it is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children in the United States. ... Among children ages 0 to 14 years, it is estimated that, in 2018, 10,590 will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,180 will die of the disease
3Is childhood cancer becoming more common?
Many different types of cancer can occur in young people, including cancers that are often seen in adults as well as cancers that are unique to children. More than 15,000 cases of pediatric cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. The most common types are leukemia, lymphoma, and brain cancer.
4Can children survive cancer?
In the last 40 years, the overall survival rate for children's cancer has increased from 10% to nearly 90% today, but for many more rare childhood cancers, the survival rate is much less. 12% of children who are diagnosed with cancer do not survive.
5What was your child's first sign of cancer?
Children often get sick or have bumps or bruises that might mask the early signs of cancer. Cancer in children is not common, but it's important to have your child checked by a doctor if they have unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away, such as: An unusual lump or swelling. Unexplained paleness and loss of
6What is the rarest childhood cancer?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma makes up about 5% of childhood cancers. It is more likely to occur in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than 3. The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are different from those in adults.
7What are the signs of leukemia in a child?
Common symptoms of childhood leukemia Anemia. A doctor should assess a child if they have symptoms of anemia. ... Frequent infections. ... Bruising and bleeding. ... Bone or joint pain. ... Swelling. ... Lack of appetite, stomachache, and weight loss. ... Coughing or breathing difficulties. ... Headaches, vomiting, and seizures.
8What are the signs of a brain tumor in a child?
Brain Tumors in Children 8 Warning Signs You Should Know 1: Headache. Many children with a brain tumor experience headaches before their diagnosis. ... 2: Nausea and Vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are two common signs of the flu or flulike illnesses. ... 3: Sleepiness. ... 4: Vision, Hearing or Speech Changes. ... 5: Personality Changes. ... 6: Balance Problems. ... 7: Seizures. ... 8: Increased Head Size.
9Are child cancer rates increasing?
Childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades. Because of major treatment advances in recent decades, more than 80% of children with cancer now survive 5 years or more. Overall, this is a huge increase since the mid-1970s, when the 5-year survival rate was about 58%.
10What is the survival rate for a child with leukemia?
What are the survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia? About 98% of children with ALL go into remission within weeks after starting treatment. About 90% of those children can be cured. Patients are considered cured after 10 years in remission.


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