We sometimes look at children and only see smaller versions of ourselves. But when we look deeper, we know that children have different needs, wants, likes, dislikes, and outlooks. Medical issues also vary greatly from their adult counterparts. Pediatric oncologists and other physicians who work with children are well aware of these differences. Childhood cancers are very different as well.

Childhood cancers differ from adult cancers in many ways.

Prevalence

Childhood cancers are much less common than cancers in adults. Cancers in children and adolescents account for a small percentage of all cancers that are diagnosed.

Risk Factors and Causes

Many cancers that affect adults are related to lifestyle risk factors, such as tobacco or alcohol use, poor diet, or sedentary lifestyle. On the other hand, the causes of most childhood cancers are not known, though they are most likely genetic.

Types of Cancers

Childhood cancers tend to occur at different sites from those common in adults. Among the most common childhood cancers are leukemias, lymphomas, brain tumors, and bone cancer. Each of these cancers also occurs in adults, but adult cancers are more likely to strike the lung, colon, breast, prostate, and pancreas. There are some childhood cancers that almost never occur in adults, and some cancers that affect adults, but virtually never occur in children. At the same time, there are cancers that, while more common at one age than another, can affect both adults and children.

Treatment Facility

Most adults who are diagnosed with cancer are treated in their local community by their primary care physicians and cancer specialists. Children’s cancers are much more rare than those of adults, so specialists in many smaller communities may not have continuing experience with the management of these diseases. For this reason, children usually are best treated by teams of doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of childhood cancers. Such teams are much more likely to be found in children’s hospitals, university medical centers, and cancer centers.

Prognosis

Over the past 20 years, there has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with cancer. But, according to the National Cancer Institute, the death rate has decreased and the five-year survival rate has increased.