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Childhood cancer facts and figures

Find out all the childhood cancer facts and figures for those aged 0-14 years in the UK.

Childhood Cancer Incidence

  • Childhood cancer is rare – around 1,600 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK (in children aged 0-14 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% of all cancers in the UK
  • Cancer occurs more commonly in boys than girls, 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% between 1966-2000. Some of this increase is thought to be due to improvements in diagnosis and registration
  • The childhood cancer rate in the UK is the lowest 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.

Age Distribution of Childhood Cancers

Different types of childhood cancer are more common at different ages.

Some types of cancer – including embryonal tumours (such as neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma and Wilms’ tumour) and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) – occur most commonly in the under-5s.

Other cancers, such as bone tumours, are very rare in younger children, increasing in incidence with age and peaking in adolescence.

Childhood Cancer Mortality

  • Around 250 children in the UK, aged 0-14 years, lose their lives to cancer every year
  • In addition, around 50 young adults (aged 15-19 years) die every year from cancers diagnosed before their 15th birthday
  • In the UK, cancer is the most common cause of death in children aged 1-14 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.

Childhood Cancer Survival

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%
  • 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 5%)
  • 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%. 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%; within this, survival from Hodgkin lymphoma is 96%, and from non-Hodgkin lymphoma 88%
  • Leukaemia has an overall survival rate of 88%; within this, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common form, has a survival rate of 92% and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), 69%
  • Brain tumours have an overall survival rate of 75%, 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%) and bone tumours (68%) have the worst outlook.
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