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How has childhood cancer incidence and survival changed?

Over the past 20 years, there has been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of invasive cancer, from 11.5 cases per 100,000 children in 1975 to 14.8 per 100,000 children in 2004. During this same time, however, death rates declined dramatically and 5-year survival rates increased for most childhood cancers. For example, the 5-year survival rates for all childhood cancers combined increased from 58.1 percent in 1975 - 77 to 79.6 percent in 1996 - 2003. This improvement in survival rates is due to significant advances in treatment, resulting in a cure or long-term remission for a substantial proportion of children with cancer.

Long-term trends in incidence for leukemias and brain tumors, the most common childhood cancers, show patterns that are somewhat different from the others. Incidence of childhood leukemias appeared to rise in the early 1980s, with rates increasing from 3.3 cases per 100,000 in 1975 to 4.6 cases per 100,000 in 1985. Rates in the succeeding years have shown no consistent upward or downward trend and have ranged from 3.7 to 4.9 cases per 100,000.

For childhood brain tumors, the overall incidence rose from 1975 through 2004, from 2.3 to 3.2 cases per 100,000, with the greatest increase occurring from l983 through l986. An article in the September 2, 1998, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that the rise in incidence from 1983 through 1986 may not have represented a true increase in the number of cases, but may have reflected new forms of imaging equipment that enabled visualization of brain tumors that could not be easily visualized with older equipment. Other important developments during this time period included the changing classification of brain tumors, which resulted in tumors previously designated as "benign" being reclassified as "malignant," and improvements in neurosurgical techniques for biopsying brain tumors. Regardless of the explanation for the increase in incidence that occurred from 1983 to 1986, childhood brain tumor incidence has been essentially stable since the mid-1980s.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.