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Cancer in children is rare. Public Health England (PHE) analysis (PDF) shows that, between 1997 and 2016, there was an annual average of 1,645 cases of cancer in the UK diagnosed in 0-14 year olds and 2,110 per year diagnosed in 15-24 year olds. PHE added, however, that cancer remains the “most common cause of childhood death outside of infancy, and the most common disease-related cause of death in teenagers and young adults: only accidents and suicide are responsible for more deaths in this age group”.

The types of cancer diagnosed in children tend to be different to those seen in adults. Some more common cancers in adults are very rarely seen in children, and there are certain cancers that almost exclusively affect children. Cancer Research UK reports that the most common types of cancer in children are acute leukaemias and cancers of the brain and spinal cord. Data published by PHE (PDF) indicates that leukaemias account for about a third of all cancer cases in children and young people.  Other, rarer, cancers that affect children include, retinoblastoma (a type of eye cancer), Wilm’s tumours (kidney cancer) and muscle or bone cancers.

Treatments for children’s cancer vary depending on the type and site of the cancer.  They may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and stem cell and bone marrow transplants.

Generally, survival rates for childhood cancer are higher than adult cancers. The UK Health Security Agency reports that “more than eight out of ten young people diagnosed with cancer survive at least five years, and many of these are cured”.

While survival rates are generally improving, childhood cancer and the treatments (which can sometimes last months or years) have a significant impact on a child and their family.  Cancer Research UK states that survival rate statistics do not “reflect anything about quality of life after treatment”.  Many children and young people will experience serious long-term side effects from the cancer treatment they have received and young people who have survived cancer may be affected by the impacts of the disease and the treatment throughout their lives.

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