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Childhood cancer is rare - around 1,600 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK (in children
aged 0 to 14 years).
This means that around one child in 500 will develop some form of cancer by the age of 14 years.
Childhood cancers account for 0.5 per cent of all cancers in the UK.
Boys are more likely than girls to develop cancer, by a ratio of around 6:5. This varies by tumour
type; the most striking excess is in lymphomas, which boys are more than twice as likely to develop.
In Britain, childhood cancer incidence rates increased by 38 per cent between 1966 and 2000.
Some of this increase is thought to be due to improvements in diagnosis and registration.
Britain has the lowest childhood cancer rate in Europe, and one of the lowest of all western
industrialised countries. Australia and the US have some of the highest rates. The reasons for this
variation are not clear.
Cancer types
• The most common childhood cancer is
leukaemia, which accounts for almost one third
of cases. Cancers of the brain and spinal cord
(CNS tumours) are the next most common,
accounting for one quarter of all cases.
• The following chart shows the relative incidence
of different cancer types affecting children in the
• Around 250 children, aged 0 to 14 years, lose their lives to cancer
every year in the UK.
• In addition, around 50 young adults (aged 15-19 years) die every
year from cancers diagnosed before their fifteenth birthday.
• In the UK, cancer is the most common cause of death in children
aged 1 to 14 years, accounting for around one fifth of deaths in this
age group.
• Brain tumours claim more lives than any other childhood cancer,
accounting for more than a third of all childhood cancer deaths.
The past few decades have seen dramatic improvements in the outlook for children diagnosed with cancer. Fifty years ago, three
quarters of children diagnosed with cancer died; today more than three quarters survive.
The average five year survival rate, across all childhood cancer types, is 82 per cent.
A child who is still alive five years after diagnosis is generally considered to be cured but some children do relapse (and die)
after five years. This means that the ten year survival rate is slightly lower than the five year rate (by up to five per cent).
It is estimated that there are more than 35,000 survivors of childhood cancer alive in the UK. This number is growing by
around 1,300 per year.
Survival rates vary considerably between different types of childhood cancer and by age and gender (figures quoted below
are five year rates):
Survival from the eye cancer, retinoblastoma, has now reached 100 per cent. Survival can be at the expense of losing an eye,
or if not the eye, then the vision in the affected eye. Sometimes retinoblastoma is bilateral (both eyes) – and vision in both
eyes may be lost.
Lymphomas have a high overall survival rate of 91 percent; within this, survival from Hodgkin lymphoma is 96 per cent and
from non-Hodgkin 88 per cent.
Leukaemia has an overall survival rate of 88 per cent; within this, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common
form, has a survival rate of 92 per cent and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), 69 per cent.
Brain tumours have an overall survival rate of 75 per cent, but because they are one of the most common tumour types, they
account for the highest number of deaths. There are a number of different types of brain tumours; some have a reasonably
high survival rate whilst others still have a very poor outlook.
Of the main childhood cancer types, neuroblastoma (67 per cent) and bone tumours (68 per cent) have the worst outlook.