Cancer in children and young people

This information was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

Cancer in children and young people is rare. In the UK, only 1 in every 500 children under 15 develops a cancer. So about 1,600 children (up to the age of 15) in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Children's cancers can be quite different from cancers affecting adults. They tend to occur in different parts of the body to adult cancers. They also look different under the microscope and respond differently to treatment. In the UK, around 2,200 teenagers and young adults (15-24 years old) are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Cure rates for children are much higher than for most adult cancers. The survival rate for children’s cancer has more than doubled since the 1960s. On average, 82% (over 8 in 10) of all children can now be completely cured. For some types of children’s cancer, the cure rate is much higher.

There is a network of specialist centres, known as Principal Treatment Centres, for diagnosing and treating children’s and teenage or young adult cancers.

Principal Treatment Centres
Principal Treatment Centres

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Types of children’s cancer

Leukaemia

Leukaemia is a cancer of the bone marrow. This is the spongy material in the middle of our bones where blood cells are made. When someone has leukaemia, their body produces too many abnormal white blood cells. The cells don’t usually form a lump (tumour), but travel around the body in the blood.

Leukaemia is the most common cancer in children. The main types found in children are:

Each type of leukaemia can be divided into different sub-types. Blood and bone marrow samples will be tested to find out which type of cell has become leukaemic and at what stage of its development this happened. The cells may be tested to see if they have certain proteins on their surface. This is known as immunophenotyping which aids the diagnosis.

Almost all of the cells in our body contain chromosomes. Chromosomes are made up of genes, which control the activity of the cell. There are often changes in the structure of the chromosomes in leukaemia cells. Testing the cells for these changes is known as cytogenetics. Knowing the exact type of leukaemia your child has helps the doctors plan the most effective treatment.

Sarcomas

Sarcomas develop from tissue such as bone or muscle, and can occur in any part of the body.

Embryonal tumours

These develop from tissue that is normally only seen in the developing embryo. They can also occur in different parts of the body.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system and can occur in any lymphatic tissue in the body. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) (sometimes called Hodgkin’s disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

We have more information about each of these types of cancer in children.

Cancers of teenagers and young people 

Teenagers and young people tend to get different types of cancers to children and adults with the most common ones being lymphomas and carcinomas, germ cell (ovarian and testicular) and brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumours.

We have more information about cancer in teenagers and young adults - including the most common types, treatment and living with cancer.

Children's cancer information from CCLG

This information about children’s cancer was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). It has been reviewed and edited by their publications committee, which includes medical experts from all fields of children’s cancer and care.

Back to About children's cancers

Survival rates

There have been huge improvements in cancer treatment for children and more children than ever are surviving cancer.

Medical terms explained

Doctors may use unfamiliar words about your child's cancer and we explain some of the most common ones.