Childhood Cancer

Learning your child has cancer is unimaginable, and you may struggle with what to do first. Start by finding out more about the exact diagnosis and explore credible resources to ensure you have access to the best care available. Then, find ways to help yourself and the rest of your family during this difficult time. 

About Childhood Cancer

As in adults, childhood cancer (also called pediatric cancer) starts when normal cells change, or mutate, and grow out of control. Certain types of cancers, however, tend to develop more often in children. The reasons why are not entirely clear because only a small percentage appear to be related to an inherited genetic condition, and children have not had as many years to develop certain nutritional or lifestyle habits or be exposed to certain environmental factors that could affect their health. Regardless of how cancer begins, current research and advances are dramatically improving the way childhood cancer is being treated and cured.

Some diagnoses are more common in children up to 15 years old, while others tend to be more common in adolescents and young adults (AYAs) ages 15-39. Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, germ cell tumors, including testicular cancer and ovarian cancer, and thyroid cancer more commonly affect AYAs ages 15-24. Breast cancer and melanoma are more common in AYAs ages 25-39.


These are various types of childhood cancers:

Leukemia — This is cancer that arises in bone marrow and tissues that produce blood cells. The most common type of leukemia in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which arises in cells in the bone marrow. Another common type is acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of myeloid blood cells produced in bone marrow. Common signs of leukemia include bone and joint pain, bleeding, fever and weakness.

Brain and central nervous system tumors — The most common type of brain tumor is called a glioma, which arises from glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. Signs include blurred or double vision, dizziness and trouble walking.

Lymphoma — Lymphoma is cancer that arises in lymph tissue in the body’s immune system. Two major types are Hodgkin lymphoma, which affects lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin; and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which affects lymph nodes deep within the body. Signs include swelling of the glands in the neck, armpits and groin.

Sarcoma — These cancerous tumors occur in bones and soft tissue, such as muscle. Osteosarcomas are common types of bone cancers that grow in legs and arms, close to joints. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a soft-tissue cancer found in muscles of the head, neck, arms and legs. Signs include pain and a lump or swelling. A type of sarcoma called clear cell sarcoma can also occur in the kidneys of children. Signs include a lump, swelling or pain in the abdomen.

Liver cancer — The most common liver cancer in children is hepatoblastoma, a very rare cancer that most often affects children in the first 18 months of life. Signs include a painless lump, swelling or pain in the abdomen, and unexplained weight loss.

Kidney cancer — Wilm’s tumor can occur in one or both kidneys. 

Other childhood cancers — Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina, a thin membrane at the back of the eye. Germ cell tumors can arise in the testes, ovaries, and at the bottom of the spine, as well as in the chest, abdomen and middle of the brain. Children with retinoblastoma may have no symptoms or a white pupil that does not reflect light. Signs of germ cell tumors include a lump, swelling or mass that can be felt or seen.

Most common cancers in children 0-15 years
Brain and spinal cord/Central Nervous System (CNS) tumors
Bone cancer, including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma
Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Leukemia, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue sarcoma
Wilms tumor, a type of kidney tumor
Most common cancers in AYAs, ages 15-39
Brain and other Central Nervous System tumors
Germ Cell Tumors
Extracranial Germ Cell Tumor (Childhood)
Extragonadal Germ Cell Tumor
Sarcoma (bone and soft tissue)
Uterine Sarcoma