Childhood cancers

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.

  • What are children's cancers?

    Typically, children’s cancers are diagnosed in patients under 15 years old.

    Children’s cancers are rarer than adult cancers. They differ significantly from the cancers which affect adults, as they tend to occur in different parts of the body and, when viewed under a microscope, they look quite different. As a result, children’s cancers require a specific treatment approach.

  • Childhood leukaemia

    Leukaemia is the most common of all childhood cancers.

    Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood. Leukaemia cells are immune (white) blood cells that do not work properly and crowd out healthy blood cells.

    Most cases of leukemia occur in children under 10 years of age.

    There are several different types of leukemia that occur in children, but acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are the most common.

    If treatment with conventional chemotherapy is not successful, then a bone marrow transplant is possible.

    The most common types of childhood leukaemia are:

  • Childhood lymphoma

    Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system and lymphoid tissues.
    The cancerous cells do not work properly to protect the body and they crowd out healthy cells of the immune system. It is the third most common cancer in Australian children.

    Childhood lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. The lymphatic system includes:

    • Lymph: Colourless, watery fluid which carries white blood cells called lymphocytes.
    • Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that transports lymph through to the bloodstream.
    • Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help to fight infection. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen and groin.
    • Spleen: An organ that makes lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells.
    • Thymus: An organ in which lymphocytes grow and multiply.
    • Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat.
    • Bone marrow: Makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

    Because lymph tissue can be found through the entire body, lymphoma can start anywhere in the body and spread to almost any tissue or organ in the body. Types of lymphomas include:

    • Hodgkin lymphoma
    • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

    Solid Tumours (Sarcomas) – Cancer of the Bone, Organs or Tissues in Children. Common types of solid tumours in children include:

    • Brain Tumours
    • Ewing Sarcoma
    • Germ Cell Tumors
    • Hepatoblastoma
    • Langerhans Cell histiocytosis
    • Wilms Tumour
    • Neuroblastoma
    • Osteosarcoma
    • Retinoblastoma
    • Rhabdomyosarcoma
    • Skin tumours (melanomas)
    • Thyroid cancer
  • Childhood brain cancer

    Central nervous system cancers (of the brain and spinal cord)

    Brain tumours are the most common solid tumours found in children and cancers of the brain and spinal cord tumours are the second most commonly occuring cancers in children. Children of any age may be affected by brain and spinal cord cancers and boys are affected more often than girls.

    The two types of brain tumours affecting children are gliomas and medulloblastomas.

    Gliomas start in the cells of the brain which hold nerve cells in place. There are two main types of Gliomas in children – astrocytomas and ependymomas.

    Medulloblastomas usually develop in the cerebellum and may spread to the spinal cord or to other parts of the brain. Brain tumours can be either primary or secondary tumours. Primary brain tumours are tumours which start and develop in the brain. Secondary brain tumours (also called cerebral metastases) are when different types of cancer cells from other parts of the body spread to the brain.

    Most brain cancers of children involve the cerebellum or brain stem. In adults cancer is more likely to occur in different parts of the brain, most often in the cerebral hemispheres. Spinal cord tumours are less common than brain tumours in both children and adults.

    Many primary brain tumours are benign, which means they remain in the part of the brain in which they started and do not spread into and destroy other areas of the brain.

    Malignant primary brain tumours can spread to surrounding healthy brain tissue, which can create pressure and cause damage to the surrounding areas.

    Research continues to find what causes brain tumours.

  • Children with sarcoma

    Sarcomas (see types below) are rare types of cancer that develop in the supporting structures of the body.

    There are two main types: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Bone sarcomas can develop in any of the skeleton bones but may also develop in soft tissue near bones. Soft tissue sarcomas can develop in muscle, fat, blood vessels or in any of the other tissues that support, surround and protect the organs of the body.

    Rhabdomyosarcoma

    This is the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children. The tumour originates from the same embryonic cells that develop into voluntary muscles and develop from muscle or fibrous tissue and grow in any part of the body.

    The most common areas of the body to be affected are around the head and neck, the bladder, or the testes. Sometimes tumours are also found in a muscle, a limb, in the chest or in the abdominal wall. Occasionally, if the tumour is in the head or neck, it can spread into the brain or to the spinal cord fluid.

    Bone cancers – Osteosarcoma and Ewing’s Sarcoma

    Primary bone cancer (primary = cancer starting in the bone) is not a generally common cancer, but the incidence of primary bone cancer is highest in children and adolescents.

    Metastatic bone cancer (metastatic = cancer that has spread to the bone) is more common than primary bone cancer in all age groups, including children. Metastatic tumours occur more commonly in teenagers than in young children being quite rare in children under five.

    Osteosarcoma is the most common type of primary bone cancer in children and young adults.

    Osteosarcoma is a cancer that starts in the bone. It often starts at the ends of the bones, where new bone tissue forms as a young person grows. Any bone in the body can be affected, but the most common sites are the arms or legs, particularly around the knee joint.

    There are several different types of osteosarcoma. Most occur in the centre of the bone and there are also rare subtypes, such as parosteal, periosteal telangiectatic, and small cell osteosarcoma. This cancer is more common in boys than girls.

    Ewing’s sarcoma is named after Dr James Ewing, who described the tumour in the 1920s. It develops anywhere in the body, although most often starts in the bone. It is usually found in teenagers and more commonly affects boys than girls.

    This cancer can affect any of the bones but the most common are the pelvis, femur and tibia.

    Rarely, Ewing’s sarcoma will start in soft tissues and not in the bone. Although Ewing’s sarcoma is a type of bone cancer, it can also very rarely occur in the soft tissues rather than starting in the bone. This is called extraosseous Ewing’s sarcoma (EES).

Cancer Statistics

  • 1,630

    new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in people aged 0–24

  • 338

    cases of leukaemia will be the most commonly diagnosed

  • 3

    children & adolescents die from cancer every week

Together we can change the statistics and
outsmart cancer for good

REFERENCES

Cancer in Australia 2017, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Latest Cancer Research Updates