Francois Doz

Childhood cancers

Some 1,700 children under age 15 and around 800 from 15 to 18 years of age are diagnosed with cancer each year in France. This generic term applies to a very wide variety of diseases, and as such they are considered a broad array of rare diseases. This report addresses all the important information on childhood cancers, including an overview, their variety and the treatments available.

What are childhood cancers ?

Childhood cancers are different from adult cancers. First of all, they are much rarer and account for only 1-2% of all cancers. Leukemia, tumors of the central nervous system and lymphomas are the main cancers that affect children under the age of 15 – very different from the main adult cancers, which affect the lung, breast and prostate.

Today, thanks to the progress of the past four decades, eight out of 10 children recover. For some types of cancer, such as retinoblastoma (a tumor affecting the retina), the survival rate is almost 100%.

Despite the considerable advances made, however, cancer remains the second-most common cause of death for children aged under 15, with accidents in first place. Research into new treatments must continue in order to improve the prognosis for pediatric cancers and to limit the consequences.


Special characteristics of pediatric cancers

Pediatric cancers have special characteristics that are not found with adult cancers. While adults mainly develop carcinomas (cancers that develop from epithelial tissue, such as the skin), this type of cancer is very uncommon among children. In children aged under 15, we see mainly leukemia, lymphomas, cancer of the lymphatic system and cancers known as embryonal. These tumors form in the developing organs or tissues, and the same malignant tumor may have multi-tissue components.

These differences explain the often extreme speed of their growth, in a just a few weeks or sometimes a few days, which is not in proportion to their severity. This is due to the high proportion of dividing cells in these tumors.

Another specificity of this cancer is that certain tumors stop growing spontaneously. This is the case, for example, with certain neuroblastomas in newborns, which sometimes regress spontaneously.

Institut Curie: a long tradition of care

Only with the involvement of institutions like Institut Curie, which has broad expertise from research to care, will treatment of these diseases improve. Institut Curie is a leading center for management of and research into several pediatric cancers, including neuroblastomas, Ewing tumors, retinoblastomas, rhabdomyosarcomas and certain brain tumors. Each year, more than 400 young patients are treated by a multi-disciplinary team, including pediatricians, nurses, childcare workers and radiotherapists, which provides the most effective care, with teachers, facilitators and art instructors supporting the children on a day-to-day basis.

children under age 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year in France
teenagers from 15 to 18 years of age are diagnosed with cancer each year in France
50 %
of these cancers occur before the age of 5

One in 440 children is likely to develop cancer before the age of 15.
The most frequent types of cancer are leukemia (28%), tumors of the central nervous system (25%) and lymphomas (11%).
(According to figures from INCa)