Improving survival and more adult survivors
Cancers in adults and children, Great Britain, 1986-1995
Cancer is very rare in children. Only around 1 in 200 (0.5 per cent) of all cancers occur in children aged under 15 years. The incidence of childhood cancer has not changed very much over the past 40 years. In 2000, there were around 1,400 new cases diagnosed in Great Britain. However, cancer accounted for around 20 per cent of all deaths in children aged 1 to 14 years.
About one third of all childhood cancers are leukaemias. About 80 per cent of all leukaemias are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Around a quarter of all childhood cancers are brain and spinal tumours; while 15 per cent of cases are embryonal tumours (neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, Wilms’ tumour and hepatoblastoma). Lymphomas account for just under 10 per cent of all childhood cancers.
Childhood cancer is about one fifth more common among boys than girls. Different types of cancer tend to occur at different ages. Between 1996 and 2000, there was a peak in the incidence of the most common type of leukaemia (ALL) 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.
Children of Asian ethnic origin in Britain have consistently been found to have a higher incidence of lymphomas, particularly in early childhood. Some studies have also found a raised incidence of leukaemia, liver tumours and germ-cell tumours, but a lower incidence of Wilms' tumour and rhabdomyosarcoma.
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 at least five years after diagnosis (known as five-year survival). For the main type of childhood leukaemia, five-year survival was above 80 per cent, and 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 years compared with 7,000 (over 45 per cent) in 2000.
Sources: The Office for National Statistics and the National Registry of Childhood Tumours. Draper G J, Vincent T J et al (1991) Socio-economic factors and variations in incidence rates between County Districts, in The Geographical Epidemiology of Childhood Leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Great Britain 1966-1983. Studies on Medical and Population Subjects No.53: 37-45, HMSO: London Stiller C A, McKinney P A et al (1991) Childhood cancer and ethnic group in Britain: a United Kingdom Children's Cancer Study Group (UKCCSG) study. Br J Cancer 64: 543-548. Powell J E, Parkes S E et al (1994) Is the risk of cancer increased in Asians living in the UK? Arch Dis Child 71: 398-403. Cummins C, Winter H et al (2001) Childhood cancer in the South Asian population of England (1990-1992). Br J Cancer 84: 1215-1218.
Leukaemia: cancers of the blood forming organs. Lymphoma: a cancer of cells of the immune system confined to lymph glands and related tissues.