What is children's cancer?

Children's cancer is much less common than adult cancer. 

In the UK around 1,900 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
  • cancers of the brain and spinal cord

Other types of children's cancers include:

  • lymphoma (cancer that starts in the lymphatic system)
  • 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)

We have more detailed information about some cancer types that might affect children in the cancer types section. The information in those pages is mainly about adult cancer, rather than children's cancers. But much of the information about causes, diagnosis and treatment will be the same.

How often is childhood cancer cured?

In the 1960s about 20 to 30 out of every 100 children (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 (80%) diagnosed with cancer will live for at least 5 years or more. Most of these children will be cured. Hodgkin lymphoma and an eye cancer called retinoblastoma are curable in more than 95 out of 100 children (95%).

Even though cancer is not common in children, it is the leading cause of death from illness in children between the ages of 1 and 15. 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.

Last reviewed: 
16 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
16 Oct 2023
  • Cancer Incidence from Cancer Intelligence Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK  (2015 - 2017 UK average) 
    Accessed October 2020

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

  • Cancer and Its Management (7th edition)
    JS Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley - Blackwell, 2015

  • Childhood Cancer Statistics, England Annual Report 2018
    Public Health England (PHE), 2018

  • 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.

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