Childhood cancer is term used to describe cancers that occur between birth and 15 years of age. Childhood cancers are very rare and may differ from adult cancers in the way they grow and spread, how they are treated, and how they respond to treatment.
Common types of childhood cancer include leukemia (begins in blood-forming tissue such as bone marrow), lymphoma (begins in the cells of the immune system), neuroblastoma (begins in certain nerve cells), retinoblastoma (begins in the tissues of the retina), Wilms tumor (a type of kidney cancer), and cancers of the brain, bone, and soft tissue. Also called pediatric cancer.
The causes of most childhood cancers are not known. About 5 percent of all cancers in children are caused by an inherited mutation (a genetic mutation that can be passed from parents to their children). Most cancers in children, like those in adults, are thought to develop as a result of mutations in genes that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually cancer. Identifying potential environmental causes of childhood cancer has been difficult, partly because cancer in children is rare and partly because it is difficult to determine what children might have been exposed to early in their development.
Children's cancers are not always treated like adult cancers. Children who have cancer should be treated at a children’s cancer center - hospital or unit in a hospital that specializes in treating children with cancer. The doctors and other health professionals at these centers have special training and expertise to give complete care to children. Specialists at a children’s cancer center are likely to include primary care physicians, pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists, pediatric surgical specialists, radiation oncologists, rehabilitation specialists, pediatric nurse specialists, social workers, and psychologists. Pediatric oncology is a medical specialty focused on the care of children with cancer. It's important to know that this expertise exists and that there are effective treatments for many childhood cancers.
There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that a child with cancer receives will depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Common treatments include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplant.
Children face unique issues during their treatment for cancer, after the completion of treatment, and as survivors of cancer. For example, they may receive more intense treatments, cancer and its treatments have different effects on growing bodies than adult bodies, and they may respond differently to drugs that control symptoms in adults.
It’s essential for childhood cancer survivors to receive follow-up care to monitor their health after completing treatment. All survivors should have a treatment summary and a survivorship care plan. Survivors of any kind of cancer can develop health problems months or years after cancer treatment, known as late effects, but late effects are of particular concern for childhood cancer survivors because treatment of children can lead to profound, lasting physical and emotional effects.