Understanding the Most Common Childhood Cancers
Pediatric cancers can affect any child, and they can be found in any area of the body. While childhood cancers are thankfully rare overall and many of them have become treatable thanks to research by our partner organizations in the Children’s Oncology Group, being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment is still incredibly hard on young people. This is why research on better therapies with fewer side effects and funding for supportive care is still greatly needed.
COG member institutions have conducted many successful clinical trials on rarer childhood cancers, but certain types of cancer are especially common in children and teens, and therefore a great deal of research focuses on curing these cancers. Donate to DCG Giving today to help us advance research on cancers that affect tens of thousands of American kids, or read further to learn more about the most common types of pediatric cancer and how clinical trials help combat them.
What Are the Most Common Pediatric Cancers?
Each of these types of cancer is often diagnosed in children and teenagers, and much of COG’s research concentrates on cures for them.
Leukemia is a kind of blood cancer that causes the bone marrow to produce high numbers of poorly developed, abnormal blood cells, disrupting the functions of white blood cells (immune response), red blood cells (oxygen transport), and platelets (clotting) alike. It is a widespread type of cancer that affects people of all ages, but it’s also the single most common pediatric cancer.
Thankfully, children have a very high chance of being cured of leukemia, and those under 15 who are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common subtype, have a five-year survival rate of up to 90%. This is due in large part to research over the past several decades.
As chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which have difficult side effects for children, are still the top first-line leukemia treatments, more trials are necessary into emerging treatments such as immunotherapy. In particular, chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) could one day cure leukemia for many children and teens with minimal side effects.
Brain and Central Nervous System Tumors
Various types of cancer of the brain and spinal cord collectively make up the second-most-common malignancies found during childhood. Glioma (cancer of the glial cells of the brain and spine), medulloblastoma (cancer of the hindbrain regions, such as the cerebellum), and ependymoma (cancer of the thin lining of the spinal canal and cerebral ventricles) are all common pediatric brain cancers, and they can all have devastating consequences. Glioma, for example, can metastasize to the spinal cord due to cancerous cells in the cerebrospinal fluid.
These forms of cancer currently have at least a 70% five-year survival rate for children and teenagers. However, any disease affecting the brain and nervous system is particularly severe for young people, whose brains are still developing and whose success in school and ability to spend time with family and friends can be hampered by brain fog.
Furthermore, the current most effective treatments for childhood brain cancers are surgery and radiation therapy, which have difficult side effects and long recovery times. This means that funding is needed not only for supportive treatment for children and their families, but also for research into future first-line treatments that are easier on young patients.
Lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system, is divided into Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s types. While Hodgkin’s lymphoma is rare in young people, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is often seen in patients between the ages of 10 and 20.
The distinguishing sign of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is Reed-Sternberg cells, which are large, abnormal B-cells with a double nucleus. Meanwhile, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is further classified by the type of white blood cell it originates from. Small noncleaved cell lymphoma, arising from B-cells, accounts for 40 to 50% of childhood lymphomas, while lymphoblastic lymphoma, related to the T-cells, makes up 30%, and large-cell lymphoma, which affects both cell types, is the least common at about 20%.
Both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have high survival rates when diagnosed in children, but chemotherapy is the most-used treatment for all types, which has deleterious side effects that children are less equipped than adults to cope with.
Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer of nerve tissue, usually originates from the adrenal glands, but can also be found in the neck, spine, chest, or abdomen. Most cases of neuroblastoma are found in patients younger than 5, and while it has a 95% five-year survival rate in infants and 68% in patients between 1 and 14 years old, neuroblastoma still accounts for 15% of deaths from pediatric cancer.
Neuroblastoma has highly nonspecific symptoms to begin with, meaning diagnosis usually happens only after the cancer has spread, and its causes are also little understood. In other words, funding for research into better early detection of neuroblastoma is needed in order to save young people’s lives.
Wilms’ tumor, or nephroblastoma, a kind of kidney cancer, almost always occurs in children (usually between 3 and 4 years old) – it is extremely rare for an adult to be diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor. Thankfully, 90% of children who develop Wilms’ tumor are able to be cured, but since this type of cancer is linked to specific genetic abnormalities, more research into genetic testing is vital.
Childhood Cancer Awareness and Support
The entirety of your generous gift to DCG Giving will directly support the pediatric cancer institutions that make up COG, which are treating children and teens with cancer, conducting lifesaving research, and providing much-needed support in communities big and small all across the country. Please donate today – every contribution could save a life.