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Types of Childhood Cancer
Childhood cancer is not one disease. Depending on classification methods, there are 11 main types of childhood cancer and over 100 sub-types. Here is a brief overview of each type of childhood cancer. If a specific type of childhood cancer is not listed, that means it is a sub-type or it is primarily classified as an adult cancer. While children are sometimes diagnosed with adult cancers, this list focuses on childhood cancers. (sorted alphabetically)
Brain cancers account for about 15% of pediatric cancers and are the second most common type of cancer in children.
Primary brain tumors are a diverse group of diseases that together constitute the most common solid tumor of childhood.
Brain tumors are classified by histology, but tumor location and extent of spread are also important factors that affect treatment and prognosis.
Ewing sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones (soft tissue)—often the legs, pelvis, ribs, arms or spine. Ewing sarcoma can spread to the lungs, bones and bone marrow.. It is most often found in young teens. Symptoms can include bone pain and swelling.
The two primary malignant neoplasms of the liver are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Hepatoblastoma: A type of liver cancer that usually does not spread outside the liver. This type usually affects children younger than 3 years old.
Hepatocellular carcinoma: A type of liver cancer that often spreads to other places in the body. This type usually affects children older than 14 years old.
Leukemias, which are cancers of the bone marrow and blood, are the most common childhood cancers.
They account for about 28% of all cancers in children.
The most common types in children are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Lymphomas start in immune system cells called lymphocytes.
These cancers most often start in lymph nodes or in other lymph tissues, like the tonsils or thymus.
They can also affect the bone marrow and other organs. Symptoms depend on where the cancer starts and can include weight loss, fever, sweats, tiredness (fatigue), and lumps (swollen lymph nodes) under the skin in the neck, armpit, or groin.
Neuroblastoma starts in early forms of nerve cells found in a developing embryo or fetus. About 6% of childhood cancers are neuroblastomas. This type of cancer develops in infants and young children. It is rare in children older than 10.
Most neuroblastomas begin in sympathetic nerve ganglia in the abdomen, about half of these start in the adrenal gland.
Most of the rest start in sympathetic ganglia near the spine in the chest or neck, or in the pelvis.
Rarely, a neuroblastoma has spread so widely by the time it is found that doctors can’t tell exactly where it started.
Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer most common in teens, and usually develops in areas where the bone is growing quickly, such as near the ends of the leg or arm bones.
It often causes bone pain that gets worse at night or with activity. It can also cause swelling in the area around the bone.
Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the eye. It accounts for about 2% of childhood cancers. It usually occurs in children around the age of 2 and is seldom found in children older than 6.
Retinoblastomas are usually found because a parent or doctor notices a child’s eye looks unusual. Normally when you shine a light in a child’s eye (or take a flash picture), the pupil (the dark spot in the center of the eye) looks red because of the blood in vessels in the back of the eye. In an eye with retinoblastoma, the pupil often looks white or pink.
Rhabdomyosarcoma starts in cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. (These are the muscles that we control to move parts of our body.)
This type of cancer can start nearly any place in the body, including the head and neck, groin, belly (abdomen), pelvis, or in an arm or leg. It may cause pain, swelling (a lump), or both. This is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children.
Rhabdomyosarcoma makes up about 3% of childhood cancers.
Spinal Cord Tumors
Spinal cord tumors may arise from the spinal cord region (primary) or spread to the cord from other organs (metastatic). Metastatic spinal cord tumors, which are cancerous, are more common in children than primary spinal cord tumors.
About 90% of primary spinal cord tumors begin in cells next to the spinal cord. These include:
Ependymoma, Meningioma, Acoustic neuroma and Neurofibroma.
Wilms tumor (also called Wilms’ tumor or nephroblastoma) is a type of childhood cancer that starts in the kidneys.
It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children.
About 9 of 10 kidney cancers in children are Wilms tumors.