Pediatric Cancer Facts

Each year, approximately 12,400 parents will hear the words “your child has cancer.” Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, this disease remains the #1 cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the U.S.


  • Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related deaths in children under 20.
  • Every year, about 12,400 children and teens under the age of 20 are diagnosed with cancer – that is one in every 330 children. The average age of diagnosis is 5.
  • Although cure rates are steadily increasing, 35% of children will die from a diagnosis of cancer.
  • One fourth of all pediatric cancers diagnoses are brain tumors.
  • Diagnoses of brain cancers and other central nervous system tumors rose by more than 25% between 1973 and 1996.
    In general, children diagnosed with central nervous system tumors do NOT share the favorable prognosis of those with many other more common pediatric abnormal masses.
  • Over the past 20 years, there has been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of invasive cancer; from 11.4 cases per 100,000 children in 1975 to 15.2 per 100,000 children in 1998.
  • Diagnoses of leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer, increased by more than15% over the past 20 years.
  • Cancer remains the number one disease killer of children; more than genetic anomalies, cystic fibrosis, and AIDS combined.

Survival rates for childhood cancer have risen sharply over the past 20 years. In the United States, more than 75 percent of children with cancer are now alive five years after diagnosis, compared with about 60 percent in the mid-1970s. Much of this dramatic improvement is due to the development of improved therapies at children’s cancer centers, where the majority of children with cancer have their treatment. Pediatric cancer research has also opened the doors for progress in adult cancer research.

Research has…

  • Increased the overall understanding of the basic biology of cancer.
  • Provided principles of therapy and advances for other diseases of children and adults.

In addition…

  • Chemotherapy was first shown to be effective in curing children with cancer.
  • The discovery of the first tumor suppressor gene occurred in children with cancer.
  • The principle of multi-modal therapy was pioneered in childhood cancer research studies.
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