Cancer in children and teenagers (ages 1 to 19 years old) can be rare, but accounts for the most illness related deaths for children and young people in that age group. The treatment options and survival and curability rates for pediatric cancer vary depending on the particular type of cancer.
The types of cancers that typically affect children and teenagers tend to differ from the forms more commonly diagnosed in adults.
Most Common Forms of Pediatric Cancer
The most common forms of cancer generally seen in children and teenagers include:
Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Lymphoma is cancer in the immune cells known as lymphocytes. Tumors generally grow in the lymph nodes, tonsils, and thymus, but can also develop in the bone marrow and other organs. Lymphoma can affect both children and adults, and the two most common forms are known as Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Some of the typical symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes (present as lumps under the skin in the neck, armpit, and groin).
Hodgkins lymphoma is most common in 15 to 40 year old patients, with most cases affecting patients in their 20s. It is also more common in adults over age 55. Hodgkins lymphoma accounts for approximately 3% of childhood cancer diagnoses.
Non-hodgkins lymphoma makes up roughly 3% of childhood cancer cases, and is very rare in children under the age of three. This form of cancer tends to be fast growing, but can also respond better to treatment than other forms of pediatric cancer.
The most common form of childhood cancer, leukemia accounts for 30% of cancer diagnoses in children and teenagers. The two most common forms of pediatric leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Acute leukemia is typically treated with chemotherapy, and can grow very quickly, therefore immediate treatment is very important.
Some of the most common symptoms of leukemia in children include:
- Joint and bone pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Pale skin
- Weight loss
- Bleeding and bruising
Neuroblastomas are generally rare, accounting for 6% of pediatric cancer cases. They usually affect children under the age of ten, and originate in the developing nerve cells of an embryo or fetus. A neuroblastoma can grow on any part of the body, but are most common in the abdomen. The most common symptoms of neuroblastomas are swelling at the tumor site, as well as bone pain and fever.
Osteosarcoma and Ewing Sarcoma (Bone Cancer)
Primary bone cancer (cancer that originates in the bones, as opposed to spreading from other organs or tissue) accounts for approximately 3% of pediatric cancers.
Osteosarcoma is most common in teenagers, and usually affects the bones in the arms and legs.
Ewing sarcoma is less common, and usually affects the bones in the hips, pelvis, and legs. Both forms can cause pain and swelling.
Retinoblastomas are a rare form of cancer in the eye, and generally affect children between the ages of two and six. They account for 2% of childhood cancer cases.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a form of soft tissue cancer, and accounts for 3% of childhood cancers. It can develop anywhere in the body, but is most commonly found in:
- Head and neck
- Arm and leg
The most common symptoms are pain and swelling.
Brain and Central Nervous System Tumor
The second most common form of cancer in children, brain tumors account for roughly 26% of cancer diagnoses in children. Childhood brain tumors typically develop in the lower part of the brain such as the brain stem and cerebellum. Treatment and outcomes depend on the patient and the type of cancer. The most common symptoms of lower brain tumors include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Double and blurred vision
- Impaired mobility and motor functions
While rare and generally uncommon, children can also develop some of the types of cancer more commonly seen in adults.
The causes for most forms of childhood cancer are not entirely understood. Unlike certain types of adult cancers that can be attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or prolonged exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants, most childhood cancers are believed to result from random genetic mutations that occur either in utero or in early childhood.
Some forms of pediatric cancer can result from parental factors like smoking while pregnant or inherited genetic factors or problems with DNA, but for the most part, the specific causes of childhood cancer are still under investigation.
Contact Bicher Cancer Institute in Los Angeles today to learn more about hyperthermia treatments and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) for pediatric cancer, and to schedule an appointment.