What is childhood cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body divide in an uncontrolled manner and produce masses called tumors. Tumors can be divided into those that are benign and those that are malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous since they do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are considered cancerous because they are aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body.

Childhood cancer is not a single disease. Various body parts (brain, kidney, blood, etc.) can be affected by cancer. Examples of childhood cancers in the U.S. are:
  • Blood cancers (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myelocytic leukemia)
  • Brain tumors (glioblastoma multiforme, medulloblastoma)
  • Cancer of lymphatic system (Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
  • Kidney Cancer (Wilm’s Tumor)
  • Germ cell tumors (seminoma)
  • Connective tissue (rhabdomyosarcoma)
  • Eye cancer (retinoblastoma)
  • Bone tumors (Ewing’s sarcoma, osteosarcoma)
Cancer in children is quite rare compared with cancer in adults. However, among children 0-19 years of age in the U.S., it is the second most common cause of death, after injuries and accidents. [3] Many studies have shown that childhood cancer increased in many parts of the world from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s. [2-8]

Among childhood cancers, some are more common in certain age groups than others. For example, neuroblastoma, Wilm’s tumor, and retinoblastoma are usually found in very young children (<2 y/o). Neuroblastoma is a cancer of neural crest cells. These cells are important in the development of the nervous system. Leukemias and brain cancers are more likely in children from ages 2 to14.