• Childhood Cancer Facts and Advice

    Childhood Cancer Facts

    How common is it?

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Medical Director 
    Lisa Diller, MD with young patient. 

    In the United States, cancer is the second most common cause of death among children between the ages of 1 and 14 years, surpassed only by accidents (source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention). An estimated 11,630 new cases (of cancer) are expected to occur among children 0 to 14 years of age in 2013. Childhood cancers are rare, representing less than 1% of all new cancer diagnoses (source: American Cancer Society, Facts & Figures 2013).

    What is the most common type?

    The most common form of cancer is leukemia (blood cell cancers), which represents about one-third of all childhood cancer diagnoses, followed by solid tumors of the brain and central nervous system. Other forms are less common.

    How is it diagnosed and treated?

    Signs of cancer include sudden, persistent changes in health and behavior. The disease can be diagnosed by an oncologist. Treatment is based on the type and stage of cancer but can include chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation therapy.

    What are the survival rates?

    Five year survival rates for childhood cancers have improved dramatically over the past 20 years. Today, over two-thirds of children diagnosed with cancer are able to live full and active lives.

    What are the causes?

    The causes of this rare disease are largely unknown. Some of the evidence suggests childhood cancer is associated to genetic abnormalities, radiation, environmental toxins and/or other infectious agents.

    For more than 60 years, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children's Hospital have partnered to provide comprehensive care for children with, and survivors of, pediatric cancer.

    Patient Stories and Expert Insights from Our Doctors

    Charlie's Story – Thriving after Leukemia and Relapse

    Charlie Rider 

    At age 4, Charlie Rider began receiving care for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's. After a brief remission, Charlie's cancer came back, and he returned for more treatment, including a stem cell transplant. Today, Charlie is a healthy 8-year-old. Charlie's mother Caroline chronicled the experience of having a child diagnosed and treated for cancer. She shares her reflections in a four-part series that includes excerpts from email updates, video by family members, and interviews with Charlie's clinicians.  

    Denny's Story – From Cancer to Fenway Fan Favorite

    Denny Schoonmaker 

    At a recent Boston Red Sox game, Denny Schoonmaker addressed an audience of over 30,000 people – a pretty big accomplishment, especially for a child who has only been speaking in full sentences for 12 months. When Denny told a packed Fenway crowd that it was time to “play ball,” he was also thanking the city that has been home to him and his family for the past year.

    In 2012, Denny was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a form of liver cancer usually found in young children. Within three chemotherapy sessions, it was clear that Denny’s cancer was aggressive enough that a liver transplant was likely to be his best option. At the age of 2, Denny was prepped for what would be the first of many surgeries in his young life. Read Denny’s story.

    Liam’s Story – Advanced Care Saved his Eye


    Liam Klagges’ family’s first sign that something was wrong was that his eyes didn’t always track properly, and that his left eyelid hung a little lower than his right. Liam, it turns out, had a tumor called a retinoblastoma. Usually diagnosed in children younger than 5, it’s rare—only about 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with it every year—but grows rapidly from the back of the eye. For that reason, doctors have to start treating it as soon as it’s diagnosed, lest it fill the eye or start invading surrounding tissues. Learn how an innovative way of delivering chemotherapy treats the cancer without threatening the eye of young retinoblastoma patients like Liam.

    Five Reasons for Optimism about Pediatric Cancer Care and Research

    Dr. Stephen Sallan 

    Today, three quarters or more of all childhood cancer patients will be cured of their disease, a higher percentage than ever before. And the numbers will only get better as we learn more about the biology of childhood cancers and develop new ways of treating them. Even with rising cure rates, many childhood cancers remain a challenge for young patients and their families. But there is plenty of cause for hope. 

    Dr. Stephen Sallan of Dana-Farber/Boston Children's offers some of the reasons he is optimistic about the outlook for pediatric cancer patients.

    Five Ways to Support Families Dealing with Childhood Cancer

    Jane Roper 

    If someone you know has a child being treated for cancer, there are a lot of ways to help. Here are some tips and ideas based on the experiences of Jane Roper, the mother of a child who was diagnosed and treated for accute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

    Expert Advice for Talking to Children About Cancer

    Mom and Daughter Talk 

    Helping a loved one face cancer is never easy, but the challenge is especially daunting when the patient is your own child. The clinicians at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's work with pediatric cancer patients and their families every day. 

    Lisa Diller, MD, Anna Muriel, MD, and Jorge Fernandez, LCSW, offer these tips for talking with your children about their illness. 

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