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Children’s cancer survival

We know children’s cancer survival is one of the most difficult and emotive topics we cover. You can save it to read another time when you feel ready. And it’s okay if you don’t want to read this information at all.

Survival depends on many different factors. It depends on your child’s cancer type and any changes inside the cancer cells. It also depends on treatment and generally how well they are. 

The best person to talk to is your child’s consultant. They have the full picture and all the information. But even they won’t be able to give you a definite answer of what will happen.

You can also talk about this with the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Survival for all children’s cancer types

Survival for children's cancers is improving and has more than doubled in the last 40 years in the UK. At least 15,000 more children have survived their cancer than would have done if survival had remained as it was in the 1970's.

In the UK in the early 1970’s, 40 out of 100 children (40%) aged 0-14 years with cancer survived for at least 5 years. Now, more than 80 out of 100 children (more than 80%) survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

1 year survival

Around 90 out of 100 children (around 90%) survive their cancer for at least one year after they are diagnosed.

5 year survival

More than 80 out of 100 children (more than 80%) survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

10 year survival

Around 75 out of 100 children (around 75%) survive their cancer for ten years or more. Most of these long term survivors will be cured of their cancer. But late effects of intensive treatments mean that some groups of survivors experience higher death rates later in life compared with the general population.

About these statistics

The terms 1 year, 5 year and 10 year survival do not mean that your child will only live for 1, 5 or 10 years. They relate to the number of children or young people who are still alive 1, 5 or 10 years after their diagnosis of cancer. These year milestones have become the most common way of talking about cancer statistics.

Many children live much longer than 10 years.

Statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They can’t predict exactly what will happen to your child. No two children with cancer are exactly alike. And response to treatment also varies from one child to another.

What are the most common children’s cancer types?

The most common types of childhood cancer are:

  • leukaemia (a type of blood cancer) - diagnosed in 30 out of 100 (30%) of children with cancer
  • brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours - these are tumours in the brain, spinal cord and other parts inside the skull. They are diagnosed in more than 25 out of 100 (more than 25%) of children with cancer

But there are many other cancers that affect children. Survival statistics are different for each cancer type.

Survival for different children's cancer types

This information comes from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours Progress Report (2012) by the National Cancer Intelligence Network.

When we use data from earlier than 1993, we’re talking about children diagnosed with cancer in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). We use this data to compare survival now, to survival from previous years, for example the 1980’s. More current data is for children diagnosed with cancer in all of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

This data shows us the percentage of children (the number of children out of 100) who are alive 5 years after their cancer diagnosis.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection. ALL is the most common type of leukaemia in children. It’s most common in young children aged 0-4.

Thanks to major advances in treatment, more than 90 out of 100 children (more than 90%) with ALL now survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis. This is compared to around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) in the 1980s.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a cancer of the white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection.

Around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) with AML now survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed. This is compared with almost 35 out of 100 of children (almost 35%) in the 1980s.

Tumours in the brain, spinal cord and other parts inside the skull (intracranial) are the second most common type of children’s cancer in the UK.

Overall, 75 out of 100 children (75%) with a brain, other central nervous system or intercranial tumour survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Some of the more common types of brain tumours in children include:

  • astrocytoma
  • medulloblastoma
  • ependymoma
Low grade astrocytoma

95 out of 100 children (95%) with a low grade astrocytoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

High grade astrocytoma

More than 15 out of 100 children (more than 15%) with a high grade astrocytoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Medulloblastoma

Around 65 out of 100 children (around 65%) with medulloblastoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Ependymoma

Around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) with ependymoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer. It most commonly affects children under the age of 5. One or both eyes can be affected.

It has the highest survival of any children’s cancer in the UK. Almost all children (99-100%) with retinoblastoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of 5 years old. Around 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the UK. It starts in a type of nerve cell called a neuroblast.

More than 65 out of 100 children (65%) with neuroblastoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Wilms’ tumour is the most common form of kidney cancer in children.

90 out of 100 children (90%) with a Wilms’ tumour survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, which are important in helping to fight infection.

Almost 90 out of 100 children (almost 90%) with non-Hodgkin lymphoma survive for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.

Hodgkin lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, which are important in helping to fight infection.

Around 95 out of 100 children (around 95%) with Hodgkin lymphoma survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed.

The two main kinds of bone tumour are osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma.

Osteosarcoma

65 out of 100 children (65%) with osteosarcoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Ewing sarcoma

Almost 70 out 100 children (almost 70%) with Ewing sarcoma survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed.

Rhabdomyosarcoma affects some types of muscle cells.

Around 70 out of 100 children (around 70%) with rhabdomyosarcoma survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis.

Where can I go now for help and support?

Cancer Research UK

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They are happy to help. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.

Cancer Research UK has an online forum called CancerChat. Here you’re able to chat to other people, including parents, who are affected by cancer.

CLIC Sargent can offer help and support for parents who have a child recently diagnosed or living with childhood cancer. They can also help you access financial support.

Provides information on support services for families whose children have life-threatening or terminal conditions, regardless of the disease involved. It is involved in encouraging the development of children’s palliative care services.

Helpline: 0808 8088100

Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.

Helpline: 0800 02 888 40

Last reviewed: 
05 Jun 2019
  • Incidence statistics provided by the Cancer Intelligence Team at Cancer Research UK 

    If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular section you are interested in.

  • National Registry of Childhood Tumours Progress Report, 2012

    National Cancer Intelligence Network

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