Fortunately, cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer has been slowly increasing since 1975. Children and adolescents with cancer are usually referred to medical centers that have a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating the cancers that occur during childhood and adolescence. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will enable them to achieve optimal survival and quality of life:
- Primary care physician.
- Pediatric surgical subspecialists.
- Radiation oncologists.
- Pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists.
- Rehabilitation specialists.
- Pediatric nurse specialists.
- Social workers.
- Child life professionals.
(Refer to the PDQ summaries on Supportive and Palliative Care for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)
Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients and families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer.[1,3,4] Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%.[1,3,4] Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up since cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)
Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid tumor in childhood. More than 650 cases are diagnosed each year in North America.[5,6] The prevalence is about 1 case per 7,000 live births; the incidence is about 10.54 cases per 1 million per year in children younger than 15 years. About 37% are diagnosed as infants, and 90% are younger than 5 years at diagnosis, with a median age at diagnosis of 19 months.