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Most Common Childhood Cancers

Types of Pediatric Cancers and Blood Disorders

The types of cancers that occur most often in children are different from those seen in adults.

Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children. About 30 percent of all cancers that affect children and young adults are leukemia. It is most commonly diagnosed between ages 2 and 10. Leukemia begins in tissues that produce blood cells. The good news is that about 90 percent of children diagnosed with leukemia can be cured, thanks to advances in the past several decades.

Brain and spinal cord tumors — known as central nervous system tumors (CNS) — are the most common type of solid tumor in children, constituting about 20 percent of all cancers in patients under the age of 15. There are many different types of brain tumors and they can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in a part of the peripheral nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. It is diagnosed in about 700 children in the United States each year. Since some of the sympathetic nervous system cells are concentrated in the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys, neuroblastoma often starts growing there. Neuroblastoma develops in very early forms of nerve cells that are usually found in a developing baby, which explains why children as young as newborns can develop this cancer. In fact, neuroblastoma is the cancer most often found in infants. Tumors typically begin in the belly, neck, chest, pelvis, or adrenal glands. Neuroblastoma can spread to other parts of the body, including the bones.

There are many forms of kidney cancer that affect children and young adults, such as Wilms’ tumor, rhabdoid tumor, renal cell carcinoma, renal medullary carcinoma, clear cell sarcoma of the kidney, and congenital mesoblastic nephroma. Wilms’ tumor, also known as nephroblastoma, is the most common of these and is diagnosed in about 500 children each year in the United States. The disease is found most often in children between the ages of 2 and 5. However, it can also occur in infants, older school-age children, and rarely adolescents or adults.

Lymphocytes are white blood cells in the immune system. They fight off infections so we can stay healthy. If these cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, they can form a type of cancer called lymphoma. Lymphoma is the third most common form of cancer in children, after leukemia and brain tumors. In the United States, about 2,200 people under age 20 are diagnosed with lymphoma each year.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare sarcoma that develops in the muscles and can cause pain and swelling. The different types and grades of rhabdomyosarcoma require different treatment approaches. The more common type, embryonal
rhabdomyosarcoma, is found in the head and neck area or near the genital and urinary organs. The other type, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, is found in the arms, legs, chest, belly, genitals, or anal area. About 350 children, teens, and young adults in the United States are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma each year. It is slightly more common in boys and often occurs before age 5.

Retinoblastoma is the most common type of eye cancer in children. Most children with retinoblastoma in the United States survive the cancer and go on to lead healthy lives. Children with retinoblastoma can have normal vision, play sports, and later drive cars. They go to regular schools, have careers, and have families themselves. Retinoblastoma occurs most often in children younger than five. It affects boys and girls in equal numbers. The tumor may be in one eye (unilateral retinoblastoma) or in both eyes (bilateral retinoblastoma). The average age for diagnosis is two and a half years old when one eye is involved and one year old when both eyes are involved.

Ewing Sarcoma

Ewing sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that most often affects children and teenagers. It commonly affects bones — such as the ribs, upper arm bone, thighbone, and pelvic bone — but can also affect soft tissues, such as those in the pelvis or chest. Ewing sarcoma can cause pain and swelling. It’s common for children to get painful bumps while playing, but a doctor should look at any bump that doesn’t go away.


Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in children, teens, and young adults. About half of people with osteosarcoma have a tumor near the knee. Osteosarcoma is found in about 400 young people in the United States each year, most often during the growth spurt of the teen years.

Source: Memorial Sloan Kettering