What is children's cancer?

Cancer is when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrolled way. Some cancers may spread into other tissues that are nearby or in distant parts of the body. Children's cancer is much less common than adult cancer. 

In the UK around 1,838 children (aged 0 - 14 years) get diagnosed with cancer each year. This number includes non cancerous (benign) brain tumours. Children develop different types of cancers than adults. But they often have the same types of treatments.

What are the most common types of childhood cancer?

It's important to remember that cancer in children is rare. Out of the different types of cancer the most common type in childhood are:

  • acute leukaemias (a type of blood cancer)
  • cancers of the brain and spinal cord

Other types of children's cancers include:

  • lymphoma (cancer that starts in the lymphatic system Open a glossary item)
  • muscle or bone cancers, such as rhabdomyosarcoma, osteosarcoma, and Ewing's sarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma is most common type diagnosed in children.
  • neuroblastoma (a cancer of nerve cells)
  • Wilms tumours (a type of kidney cancer)
  • retinoblastoma (a type of eye cancer)

Find more detailed information about some cancer types that might affect children.

How often is childhood cancer cured?

In the 1960s about 20 to 30 out of every 100 children (about 20 to 30%) with cancer were successfully treated. But since then treatment for children with cancer has improved greatly.

Now more than 80 out of every 100 children (more than 80%) diagnosed with cancer will live for at least 5 years or more. Almost all children diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma Open a glossary item and retinoblastoma Open a glossary item are cured for 5 years or more.

Even though cancer is not common in children, it is the leading cause of death from. The second most common cause of death in children is accidents. 

The number of children dying from different types of cancers have gone down. But the amount of childhood deaths from cancer overall has gone up.

What are the symptoms of children's cancer?

Cancer symptoms can be very similar to those of other illnesses. And they vary between children. Remember, cancer in children is very rare.

  • Cancer Incidence from Cancer Intelligence Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK  (2016 - 2018 UK average) 
    Accessed December 2023

  • Children, teenagers and young adults UK cancer statistics report 2021
    Public Health England, February 2021. Accessed December 2023

  • Child and infant mortality in England and Wales: 2017
    Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2017

  • Global, regional, and national childhood cancer burden, 1990–2019: An analysis based on the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019
    Y Wu and others
    Journal of Advanced Research, September 2022. Volume40, Pages 233 to 247

  • The global burden of childhood and adolescent cancer in 2017: an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017
    GBD 2017 Childhood Cancer Collaborators
    The Lancet Oncology, 2019. Volume 20, Issue 9, Pages 1211 to 1225

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
21 Dec 2023
Next review due: 
21 Dec 2026

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