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Childhood cancer survival statistics

Five-year survival statistics for childhood cancer by trends over time are presented here. There are also data by cancer type and about the impact of improved survival.

The statistics on these pages give an overall picture of survival. Unless otherwise stated, the statistics include all children (0-14) diagnosed with cancer, at all ages, stages and co-morbidities. The survival time experienced by an individual patient may be much higher or lower, depending on specific patient and tumour characteristics. If you are a patient, you will probably find our CancerHelp pages more relevant and useful.

The latest survival statistics available for most childhood cancer the UK is 2006-2010 but please note that data in this section are older and newer data are coming soon. Find out why these are the latest statistics available.

Interactive childhood cancer survival chart

Survival has increased for all childhood cancers since the late 1960s, but by varying amounts and at different points in time. For every ten children diagnosed with cancer, almost eight now survive for five years or more, compared with fewer than three in ten in the late 1960s. The chart below shows the proportion of children still alive at five years from diagnosis for cancers diagnosed in successive time periods during 1966 and 2005.

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To see five-year survival for specific childhood cancers, please select a cancer site from the drop-down box. Hover over the bars to see the five-year survival percentages for specific time periods. (If you do not have Flash installed on your computer you can download a summary of this chart (Figure 3.3 below) into excel.)

Overall survival

Considerable improvements in treatments mean that for every ten children diagnosed with cancer, almost eight (78%) will survive for five years or more, compared with just three in ten (28%) in the late 1960s (Figure 3.1). Survival does not decrease greatly beyond five years from diagnosis and 73% of children are expected to survive for at least ten years. The vast majority of these long-term survivors will be cured of their cancer, though intensive treatments mean that some groups of survivors experience higher death rates beyond 25 years from diagnosis compared with the general population.

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Read more about survival rates in adults.

Five-year survival by type of cancer

Survival rates vary greatly according to the type of childhood cancer diagnosed. Five-year survival among children diagnosed during 2001-2005 ranges from just 44% for ‘other’ gliomas (mainly unspecified gliomas) to 99% for retinoblastomas (Figure 3.2).1

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Survival trends over time

Survival has increased for all diagnostic groups since the 1960s, but by varying amounts and at different points in time (Figure 3.3). The advent of combination chemotherapy in the late 1960s and 1970s brought about large increases in survival for many childhood cancers. Leukaemia showed the largest increase in five-year survival during this time, from just 9% in 1966-1970 to 61% in 1981-1985, with much of this increase being attributed to improvements in treatment for ALL (with the most of this improvement between 1966 and 1975) and hepatic tumours (with most of this increase occurring in the 1990s).

chart showing childhood cancer survival

In the 1980s, SIOPEL clinical trials led to new treatment regimes for hepatic tumours, and five-year survival increased from 33% in 1981-1985 to 65% in 1991-1995.

Retinoblastoma has consistently had the highest survival of all the childhood cancers over the last four decades; even so, five-year survival still improved from 86% in 1966-1970 to 99% in 2001-2005.

The ACCIS project has enabled a detailed analysis of survival from children’s cancers in Europe. For all childhood cancers diagnosed in the period 1988-1997, five-year survival was highest in Northern Europe (77%) and lowest in the Eastern region (62%); survival for the British Isles was roughly in the middle at 71%.2

Northern Europe has the highest survival rates for the majority of diagnostic groups; of notable exception are lymphomas and SNS tumours, which are highest in Western Europe. Eastern Europe has the lowest survival rates for all of the diagnostic groups except carcinomas and melanomas.

Impact of improved survival rates

To measure the impact of improved survival rates, the Statistical Information Team have calculated the actual number of children that have survived their disease for at least five years, compared with the number that would have survived for five years if survival rates had remained as they were in the early 1970s.

The analysis, using data from the Childhood Cancer Research Group, suggests that at least 5,600 more children have survived for at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer than would have done if survival rates had remained the same.3

For leukaemia, around 4,800 additional children have survived their disease for at least five years (Figure 3.4). In the early 70s, 33 per cent of children survived for five years or more. Today, survival rates for leukaemia – the most common childhood cancer - have risen to more than 80 per cent.

Figure 3.4: Increase in the Number of Children (aged 0-14) Alive Five Years After Their Leukaemia Diagnosis Due to Improving Survival Rates, Great Britain, 1971-2005

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Since 1971 around 3,000 children have been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. In the early 1970s only 17% of these children survived for five years or more. Now 64% survive and it is estimated that around 800 more children survived their disease for more than five years due to this increase in survival rates.

section updated 14/11/11

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References for Childhood cancer survival

  1. Stiller C, ed. Childhood Cancer in Britain: Incidence, survival, mortality. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2007
  2. Sankila R, Martos Jimenez MC, Miljus D, et al. Geographical comparison of cancer survival in European children (1988-1997): report from the Automated Childhood Cancer Information System project. Eur J Cancer 2006;42:1972-80.
  3. Incidence and survival data: Childhood Cancer Research Group (CCRG), which houses the National Registry of Childhood Tumours (NRCT). November 2011
Updated: 19 November 2013