Childhood Cancer and Solid Tumors

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The types of cancer that develop in children are very different from the types that develop in adults.  Childhood cancers tend to be more aggressive.  While cancer in children is rare compared to cancer in adults, an estimated 11,200 children in the United States were diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2011.  For every 10,000 children, one or two develop childhood cancer each year, which means there are a few cases in each school district.

Although the incidence of some types of childhood cancer is on the rise, childhood cancer survival rates have improved dramatically over the past several decades.  Today, the 5-year survival rate for all childhood cancer is estimated to be 75-80%, while the survival rate prior to 1970 was less than 50%.  This is good news; however, childhood cancer is still responsible for killing more children and teenagers every year than any other disease.  Additionally, adults who have survived childhood cancer often experience complications later in life.  At least two-thirds of survivors develop chronic health conditions affecting endocrine, reproductive, and neurologic function.

The most common childhood cancer is leukemia representing about 1/3 of all childhood cancers.  Leukemia is considered to be blood cancer, and is not a solid tumor.  The term solid tumor is used to describe a cancer that is a localized mass of tissue.  Solid tumor cancers comprise the remaining 2/3 of childhood cancer cases.

Different kinds of solid tumors are named for the type of cells of which they are composed.  Solid tumor childhood cancers fall into 10 categories (listed below from most common to least common).  There are many specific types of cancer within each category.

Category Examples of specific types of cancer in this category
Central nervous system tumors(Brain and spinal cord) AstrocytomaMedulloblastoma
Lymphoma(Lymph nodes) Hodgkin’s LymphomaNon-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Carcinomas(Skin, thyroid, etc.) MelanomaThyroid Carcinoma
Soft tissue sarcomas(Muscle, cartilage, etc.) Rhabdomyosarcoma
Germ cell tumors(Ovary and testes) Ovarian and testicular cancer
Sympathetic nervous system tumors(Adrenal glands, etc.) Neuroblastoma
Bone tumors OsteosarcomaEwing’s Sarcoma
Kidney tumors Wilm’s tumor
Retinoblastoma(Eyes) Retinoblastoma
Liver tumors Hepatoblastoma