Boy at the hospital surrounded by healthcare workers and wearing facemasks during the pandemic

Are We Making Progress on Childhood Cancers?  

A cancer diagnosis is rare in children but can be jarring for families.  

In 2021, experts estimate about 10,500 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in children from birth to 14 years old.  

Thanks to advances in treatments for childhood cancers throughout the past 30 years, 85% of children diagnosed with cancer today are alive at least five years after their diagnosis. Many will ultimately be cured of their disease. The long-term effects of cancer treatments – known as late effects – in children are being actively studied by researchers. 

What’s particularly encouraging is that cancer death rates for children 14 years old and under have dropped by 65% from 1970 to 2016. Childhood cancer does remain the leading cause of death from disease among children.  

Leukemia  

Leukemia is any cancer that occurs in the blood cells. It’s the most common cancer in children under the age of 15. There are several types that occur in children, including acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia: Recent improvements in survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia are drastic: In the 1970s, the five-year survival rate for children ages 0 to 14 years old diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia was 57%; in 2012 the survival rate was 92%. 

Brain and central nervous system tumors  

After leukemia, brain and spinal cord tumors are the second most common type of childhood cancer. There are many different types of tumors that can affect the brain and spinal cord.  

Some can be benign, meaning not cancerous, or malignant, meaning cancerous:  

  • Benign tumors can grow and press against other areas of the brain, and rarely spread into other brain tissue.  
  • Malignant tumors can be low-grade or high-grade. High grade tumors are more likely to grow quickly and spread into other brain tissue, while the opposite is true for low-grade tumors.  

Lymphomas  

Lymphomas are cancers that begin in the lymph systems, which are a critical component of the body’s immune system. There are two main types: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The five-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma has increased dramatically for children ages 0 to 14 years old: it is now 91% as of 2012, compared to 43% in 1975.  

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