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Childhood Cancer

Childhood cancer is rarer than cancer in adults.

In recent years there have been significant improvements in survival rates for certain cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer.1 Even so, understanding what childhood cancer is and how it works can help families prepare for a diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Let’s dive deeper into what you should know about childhood cancer, such as how it differs from cancer in adults and some common types.

What is childhood cancer?

Childhood cancer, or pediatric cancer, refers to abnormal cell growth that affects children and teens. This involves the uncontrollable or atypical growth of cells in the body to form tumors. Some tumors are benign and do no harm, while others are malignant and can spread to nearby tissue and other parts of the body.

Environmental and lifestyle risk factors don't play a big role in childhood cancers. The causes of childhood cancers are not yet well-known or understood.

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Cancer in adults vs. children

There are a few notable distinctions between childhood and adult cancers. Childhood cancers may occur in different parts of the body compared to adults.2 Even when they start in the same part, they may behave differently.3 They appear different under a microscope and may even respond differently to treatment.

Additionally, children tend to develop different cancers from the types usually found in adults. While many adult cancers are caused by lifestyle or environmental factors, the same doesn't hold true for childhood cancers.

Children are more likely to receive successful treatment for cancer. In fact, advances in medicine mean that in recent years, 85% of children with cancer survive 5 years or more.4 Children may get more intense cancer treatment, and they don't usually have health problems that get worse with treatment.5

Types of childhood cancer

Common childhood cancers differ from common adult cancers. Lung and colorectal cancers are more common in adults, along with prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.6 Here are some common types of childhood cancers:7


Leukemias, especially acute lymphocytic leukemia (also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia) (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), are the most common childhood cancers. They affect the bone marrow and blood and may cause symptoms like bone and joint pain, weakness, and fatigue.

Brain and spinal tumor

Brain and spinal cord tumors exist in many forms. The treatments and outlook for each can vary. Brain tumors in children may cause headaches, nausea, and vision problems, along with other symptoms. Spinal cord tumors are less common but may cause numbness, weakness, and lack of coordination in the arms and legs. It's important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other abnormalities, and don't necessarily mean your child has a brain or spinal cord tumor.


Lymphomas often start in the lymph nodes, tonsils, or thymus. They may affect the bone marrow and other organs over time. Swollen lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, weight loss, and sweats are among the symptoms. Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the main types.


Neuroblastoma is usually observed in infants and young children as it starts in the nerve cells found in developing embryos or fetuses. It starts as a swelling in the abdomen and can cause bone pain, fever, and other symptoms.

Kidney tumor

Kidney tumors, sometimes known as Wilms tumors or nephroblastoma, can show up on one or both kidneys. It may be accompanied by symptoms like loss of appetite, fever, and nausea.

Can childhood cancer be treated?

There have been significant advances in medical science and healthcare, allowing for successful treatment and cure of many forms of childhood cancer. Additionally, cure rates have dramatically improved over the past few decades.

Treatment options for childhood cancer are largely dependent on the type and stage of the disease. A multidisciplinary team of medical professionals often tailors the treatment plan to the individual needs of the child, considering factors like the child's age, overall health, and the anticipated side effects of the treatment. It's also notable that research is ongoing to develop more effective treatments for each type of childhood cancer.

Get cancer insurance from Aflac

Childhood cancers are rare, and many patients make a full recovery thanks to advances in cancer medicine. Even so, understanding this disease, its symptoms, and treatments can be helpful.

Cancer insurance can help provide parents and families with financial support in case of a childhood cancer diagnosis. Aflac offers cancer insurance that goes beyond covering medical expenses. We also provide cash benefits that can help you deal with day-to-day expenses, bills, mortgage payments, and more. The right supplemental cancer insurance policy can help lift a financial burden, so cancer-affected families can focus on treatment and recovery. Speak with an agent today to learn more about your options.

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