Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!

Facts about childhood cancer

Childhood cancer is 1% of all newly diagnosed cancers globally (1,2).

It is the second most common cause of death among children under age of 19 after accidents.

Childhood cancer is an umbrella term for a great variety of malignancies which vary by site of disease origin, tissue type, race, sex, and age.

Cancer in children is not the same as cancer in adults (3–5).

The cause of childhood cancers is believed to be due to faulty genes in embryonic cells that happen before birth and develop later. In contrast to many adult’s cancers, there is no evidence that links lifestyle or environmental risk factors to the development of childhood cancer.

The most common types of childhood cancer are (1,2):

  • Leukaemia and lymphoma (blood cancers)
  • Brain and other central nervous system tumours
  • Muscle cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma)
  • Kidney cancer (Wilms tumour)
  • Neuroblastoma (tumour of the non-central nervous system)
  • Bone cancer (osteosarcoma)
  • Testicular and ovarian tumours (gonadal germ cell tumours)

In the last 40 years the survival of children with most types of cancer has radically improved owing to the advances in diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care. Now, more than 80% of children with cancer in the same age gap survive at least 5 years (1,6) when compared to 50% of children with cancer survived in 1970s-80s (7).

A revised treatment protocol was introduced in the 1970s leading to dramatic improvements in outcome for some of the most common blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The 5-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 85% in 2003-2009. It was just less than 50% in the late 1970s. The 5-year survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is  about 90% in 2003-2009 and just 10% – in the 1960s (1,6).Children with some types of brain cancers survive from 70% (medulloblastoma) to 85% (astrocytoma) within 5 years (2).

Unfortunately, no progress has been made in survival of children with tumours that have the worst prognosis (brain tumours, neuroblastoma and sarcomas, cancers developing in certain age groups and/or located within certain sites in the body), along with acute myeloid leukaemia (blood cancer) (1,2).  Children with a rare brain cancer – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma survive less than 1 year from diagnosis (8). Children with soft tissue tumours have 5-year survival rates ranging from 64% (rhabdomyosarcoma) to 72% (Ewing sarcoma) (2).

For majority of children who do survive cancer, the battle is never over. Over 60% of long‐term childhood cancer survivors have a chronic illness as a consequence of the treatment; over 25% have a severe or life‐ threatening illness (9).


  1. Gatta G, Botta L, Rossi S, Aareleid T, Bielska-Lasota M, Clavel J, et al. Childhood cancer survival in Europe 1999-2007: Results of EUROCARE-5-a population-based study. Lancet Oncol. 2014;15(1):35–47.
  2. Ward E, Desantis C, Robbins A, Kohler B, Jemal A. Childhood and Adolescent Cancer Statistics , 2014. Ca Cancer J Clin. 2014;64(2):83–103.
  3. Dolgin MJ, Jay SM. Childhood cancer. 1989;327–40.
  4. Miller RW, Young Jr. JL, Novakovic B. Childhood cancer. Cancer [Internet]. 1995;75(1 Suppl):395–405.
  5. Raab CP, Gartner JC. Diagnosis of Childhood Cancer. Primary Care – Clinics in Office Practice. 2009. p. 671–84.
  6. Howlader N, Noone A, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse S, et al. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2011 [Internet]. National Cancer Institute. 2014.
  7. Ries L a. G, Smith M a., Gurney JG, Linet M, Tamra T, Young JL, et al. Cancer incidence and survival among children and adolescents: United States SEER Program 1975-1995. NIH Pub No 99-4649. 1999;179 pp
  8. Warren KE. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma: poised for progress. Front Oncol [Internet]. 2012;2(December):205.
  9. Lackner H, Benesch M, Schagerl S, Kerbl R, Schwinger W, Urban C. Prospective evaluation of late effects after childhood cancer therapy with a follow-up over 9 years. Eur J Pediatr. 2000;159(10):750–8.