Children’s cancer survival

We know children’s cancer survival is one of the most difficult and emotive topics we cover. You can save it to read another time when you feel ready. And it’s okay if you don’t want to read this information at all.

Survival depends on many different factors. It depends on your child’s cancer type and any changes inside the cancer cells. It also depends on treatment and generally how well they are. 

The best person to talk to is your child’s consultant. They have the full picture and all the information. But even they won’t be able to give you a definite answer of what will happen.

You can also talk about this with the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Survival for all children’s cancer types

Survival for children's cancers is improving and has more than doubled in the UK since the 1970’s.

In Great Britain in the early 1970’s, 40 out of 100 children (40%) aged 0 to 14 years with cancer survived for at least 5 years. Now, around 85 out of 100 children (around 85%) in the UK survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

The following figures are for 1, 5 and 10 year survival for children diagnosed in 2018. They have come from the Office for National Statistics and are based on the report for childhood cancer survival for England. These figures are estimates based on previous survival statistics for childhood cancer.  

1 year survival

Around 95 out of 100 children (around 95%) survive their cancer for at least one year after they are diagnosed.

5 year survival

Around 85 out of 100 children (around 85%) survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

10 year survival

Around 80 out of 100 children (around 80%) survive their cancer for ten years or more. Most of these long term survivors will be cured of their cancer.

About these statistics

The terms 1 year, 5 year and 10 year survival do not mean that your child will only live for 1, 5 or 10 years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and researchers collect information about what happens to people with cancer in the years after their diagnosis. These year milestones have become the most common way of talking about cancer statistics.

Many children live much longer than 10 years.

Statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They can’t predict exactly what will happen to your child. No two children with cancer are exactly alike. And response to treatment also varies from one child to another.

What are the most common children’s cancer types?

The most common types of childhood cancer are:

  • leukaemia (a type of blood cancer) - diagnosed in around 30 out of 100 (around 30%) of children with cancer
  • brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours - these are tumours in the brain, spinal cord and other parts inside the skull. They are diagnosed in 25 out of 100 (25%) of children with cancer

But there are many other cancers that affect children. Survival statistics are different for each cancer type.

Survival for different children's cancer types

Most of this information comes from the children, teenagers and young adults UK cancer statistics report 2021, published by Public Health England.

Some of the brain tumour statistics come from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours Progress Report (2012), published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network.

The current information and figures are for children diagnosed with cancer in all of the UK, which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This data shows us the percentage of children (the number of children out of 100) who are alive 5 years after their cancer diagnosis.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection. ALL is the most common type of leukaemia in children. It’s most common in young children aged 0 to 4 years of age.

Thanks to major advances in treatment, more than 90 out of 100 children (more than 90%) with ALL now survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis. This is compared to around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) in the 1980s.  

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a cancer of the white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection.

More than 70 out of 100 children (more than 70%) with AML now survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed. This is compared with almost 35 out of 100 of children (almost 35%) in the 1980s.

Tumours in the brain, spinal cord and other parts inside the skull (intracranial) are the second most common type of children’s cancer in the UK.

Overall, more than 75 out of 100 children (more than 75%) with a brain, other central nervous system or intercranial tumour survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Some of the more common types of brain tumours in children include:

  • astrocytoma
  • medulloblastoma
  • ependymoma
Astrocytoma

These statistics for astrocytoma come from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours Progress Report (2012) by the National Cancer Intelligence Network. These figures are for children diagnosed between 1978 and 2012 in the UK and Ireland.

Low grade astrocytoma

95 out of 100 children (95%) with a low grade astrocytoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

High grade astrocytoma 

More than 15 out of 100 children (more than 15%) with a high grade astrocytoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed

Medulloblastoma

Around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) with medulloblastoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Ependymoma

Almost 75 out of 100 children (almost 75%) with ependymoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer. It most commonly affects children under the age of 5. One or both eyes can be affected.

It has the highest survival of any children’s cancer in the UK. Almost all children (almost 100%) with retinoblastoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of 5 years old. Around 95 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the UK. It starts in a type of nerve cell called a neuroblast.

70 out of 100 children (70%) with neuroblastoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Wilms tumour is the most common form of kidney cancer in children.

Around 90 out of 100 children (around 90%) with a Wilms tumour survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, which are important in helping to fight infection.

Around 90 out of 100 children (around 90%) with non-Hodgkin lymphoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Hodgkin lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, which are important in helping to fight infection.

Almost all children (almost 100%) with Hodgkin lymphoma survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed.

The two main kinds of bone tumour are osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma.

Osteosarcoma

More than 70 out of 100 children (more than 70%) with osteosarcoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Ewing sarcoma

65 out 100 children (65%) with Ewing sarcoma survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed.

Rhabdomyosarcoma affects some types of muscle cells.

Around 75 out of 100 children (around 75%) with rhabdomyosarcoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Hepatoblastoma is a type of liver cancer that mainly affects children under the age of 3 years old. It’s the most common type of liver cancer in children.

More than 75 out of 100 children (more than 75%) with hepatoblastoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Where can I go now for help and support?

Cancer Research UK

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They are happy to help. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.

Cancer Research UK has an online forum called CancerChat. Here you’re able to chat to other people, including parents, who are affected by cancer.

Young Lives vs Cancer (previously called CLIC Sargent) is a charity that provides clinical, practical, financial and emotional support for children and young people and their families who are affected by cancer.

Phone: 0300 330 0803

Provides information on support services for families whose children have life-threatening or terminal conditions, regardless of the disease involved. It is involved in encouraging the development of children’s palliative care services.

Helpline: 0808 8088100

Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.

Helpline: 0800 02 888 40

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