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Childhood Cancer

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Childhood cancer is not one disease, but includes more than 12 major types of cancer with many subtypes. Often the cancers in children are different from the types most commonly found in adults. Childhood cancers are rare, accounting for less than 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses, but are often more aggressive than adult cancers. More children die from childhood cancers than any other disease. Common types of childhood cancer include leukemia, lymphomas, brain and central nervous system cancer, Wilms tumor, testicular and ovarian germ cell tumors, neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, retinoblastoma, and bone cancer.


  • In Texas, approximately 1,200 children under age 20 are diagnosed with cancer and nearly 200 children die annually.
  • Approximately 10,380 U.S. children under age 15 are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2015. About 1,250 deaths of children under age 15 are anticipated.
  • More than half of childhood cancers are leukemias (30 percent) or brain and central nervous systems cancers (26 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 and environmental factors, such as smoking, obesity, and exposure to chemicals, do not have an impact on risk. In rare 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