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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

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A Snapshot of Pediatric Cancers

Incidence and Mortality

Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children between infancy and age 14. Approximately 11,600 new cases of pediatric cancer are expected to be diagnosed in children ages 0–14 years in 2013. The major types of childhood cancers are leukemia and brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumors, which account for more than half of new cases. White and Hispanic children are more likely than children from any other racial or ethnic group to develop cancer.

Although the overall incidence rate of invasive cancer in children has increased slightly over the past 30 years, mortality rates have declined by more than 50 percent for many childhood cancers.1 The combined 5-year survival for all childhood cancers has improved from 63 percent in the mid-1970s to 83 percent in recent years. The progress in survival rates is largely attributable to improvements in treatments and to the high proportion of pediatric patients participating in clinical trials. Although outcomes have improved for many childhood cancers, progress in others has been limited. Brain tumors remain the leading cause of cancer-related death in children.

The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown, and for the most part they cannot be prevented. In rare cases, children who are at increased risk of developing a certain cancer (for example, colorectal cancer) due to inherited genetic alterations may have surgery to reduce this risk. Depending on the type of cancer, children may receive different standard treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, cerebrospinal fluid diversion, radiation therapy, watchful waiting, chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, biological therapy, or targeted therapy.

Line graphs showing U.S. Pediatric Cancers Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010 for ages 0-18. In 2010, Hispanics have the highest incidence, followed by whites, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and African Americans. In 2010, Asians/Pacific Islanders have the highest mortality, followed by whites, Hispanics and African Americans. Insufficient data available for time trend analysis American Indian/Alaska Natives.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Pediatric Cancers

Selected Advances in Pediatric Cancers Research

Pie chart of NCI Pediatric Cancers Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 18%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 11%.  Prevention, 2%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 7%.  Treatment, 43%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 15%.  Scientific model systems, 4%.
  • Gene rearrangements identified through whole-genome sequencing of Philadelphia-chromosome-like acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a high-risk childhood cancer subtype, produce activated proteins that are potential targets for existing therapeutics. Published August 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A multi-institutional team identified a growth factor that, together with its receptor, is essential for the growth and spread of medulloblastoma, the most common malignant pediatric brain tumor. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract].
  • Scientists developed the first pediatric adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) xenograft model and identified a potential drug to treat children with ACC. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Results of a phase I clinical trial of crizotinib showed that this drug has antitumor activity in pediatric cancer patients whose tumors have activating mutations in the ALK gene. Published April 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to pediatric cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Pediatric Cancers Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in pediatric cancers research increased from $189.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $208.1 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $60.4 million in pediatric cancers research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).3

Bar graph of NCI Pediatric Cancers Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008 $189.8 million Pediatric Cancer Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2009, $192.8 million Pediatric Cancer Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $197.1 million Pediatric Cancer Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2011, $195.5 million Pediatric Cancer Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2012, $208.1 million Pediatric Cancer Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Pediatric Cancers


  • 1 Includes cancers in children 0-18 years of age. Does not include research on pediatric AIDS, infant mortality, science enrichment, or anti-smoking.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.
  • 3 For more information regarding ARRA funding at NCI, see Recovery Act Funding at NCI.