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Childhood Cancers

Childhood cancers are rare, accounting for less than 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses. However childhood cancer remains the most common cause of disease related death among children outside the newborn period. Common types of childhood cancer include leukemia, lymphoma, and solid tumors such as brain, Wilms tumor, testicular and ovarian germ cell tumors, neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, retinoblastoma, and bone cancer.


  • Approximately 10,380 U.S. children under age 15 are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. About 1,250 deaths of children under age 15 are anticipated.
  • In Texas, approximately 1,200 children under age 20 are diagnosed with cancer and almost 200 children die annually.
  • More than half of childhood cancers are made up of either leukemia (30 percent) or brain (central nervous system) tumors (26 percent).
  • The five-year survival rate has increased significantly in the last few decades due to treatment advances and now exceeds 80 percent. The rate for the most common childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, has improved dramatically to 89 percent. Several other types of childhood cancer (including pediatric kidney tumors and most forms of lymphoma) now have five-year survival rates approaching or greater than 90 percent.

Symptoms and Signs

Cancers in children may be difficult to recognize as symptoms are often similar to those caused by common illnesses or injuries. Parents should watch for unusual signs that persist and consult a physician with any concerns.

  • An unusual lump
  • Unusual swelling
  • Unexplained paleness
  • Lack of energy
  • Easy bruising
  • Persistent pain in one area of the body
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever
  • A prolonged illness
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bleeding

Prevention and Risk Factors

The origin of most childhood cancers is unknown and cannot be prevented. Unlike adult cancers, lifestyle factors, such as smoking and obesity, do not have an impact on risk. A small number of environmental factors, such as exposure to radiation, may increase childhood cancer risk.

In about 5 percent of cases, inherited genes can be linked to an increased risk for some forms of cancer in children. Physicians may recommend close follow up or preventive surgery to reduce the risk of cancer developing in a particular organ.

Treatment Options

Treating childhood cancer differs greatly from treating adults with cancer. For example, children can recover better from high doses of chemotherapy than adults. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, proton therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplants. Proton therapy may be recommended for treating children because their bodies are still growing. A combination of treatments may be used.

Children diagnosed with cancer can benefit from being treated at centers specializing in pediatric oncology, which use protocols developed for children, have specialized pediatric equipment and pediatric and surgical sub-specialists, and have clinical trials specifically for children.

Sources: American Cancer Society, American Childhood Cancer Organization, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry

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