In 2000, there were around 1,400 new cases of cancer diagnosed in children in the UK.
Cancer is very rare in childhood. In Great Britain, only around 1 in 200 (0.5 per cent) of all cancers occur in children aged under 15 years and the incidence has not changed very much over the past 40 years. Nevertheless, it accounts for around 6 per cent of deaths in all children (0 to 14 years) and around 20 per cent in children aged 1 to 14.
There are many types of childhood cancer, but the cancers most frequently seen in adults in developed countries – such as lung, stomach and large bowel - are all extremely rare among children.
About one third of all childhood cancers are leukaemias, and of these about 80 per cent are of the acute lymphoblastic type (ALL). Between a quarter and a fifth of all childhood cancers are brain and spinal tumours; embryonal tumours account for just over 15 per cent of cases; and lymphomas account for just under 10 per cent.
Childhood cancer is about one fifth more common among boys than among girls. The different types of cancer tend to occur predominantly at different ages. For example, there is a peak in the most common type of leukaemia at ages 2 to 3 years. In Britain, the incidence of ALL is higher in areas of higher socio-economic status, particularly in early childhood.
Since the 1960s, there have been great advances in the treatment of most childhood cancers, resulting in markedly higher survival rates. By the mid-1990s, nearly 75 per cent of children with cancer survived for at least five years after diagnosis (known as five year survival). For the main type of childhood leukaemia (ALL), five year survival was above 80 per cent. Five year survival exceeded 50 per cent for every main type of childhood cancer.
The number of adult survivors of childhood cancer has greatly increased, from around 1,400 in 1971 to almost 15,000 in 2000. In 1971, only around 100 adult survivors were aged over 30, compared with 7,000 (over 45 per cent) in 2000.
Leukaemia: cancers of the blood forming organs, characterised by abnormal proliferation and development of leucocytes and their precursors in the bone marrow, blood, lymph and lymph glands.
Embryonal tumours include neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, Wilms’ tumour and hepatoblastoma
Lymphoma: a cancer of cells of the immune system confined to lymph glands and related tissues.
Sources: The Office for National Statistics; The National Registry of Childhood Tumours