The National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides the PDQ pediatric cancer treatment information summaries as a public service to increase the availability of evidence-based cancer information to health professionals, patients, and the public.
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 should be 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 primary care physician, pediatric surgical subspecialists, radiation oncologists, pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists, rehabilitation specialists, pediatric nurse specialists, social workers, and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life. (Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)
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Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of children with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most of the types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients/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. Between1975 and 2002, childhood cancer mortality has decreased by more than 50%. For non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the 5-year survival rate has increased over the same time period from 45% to 88% in children younger than 15 years and from 47% to 77% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years. Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on the 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.)
Lymphoma (Hodgkin lymphoma and NHL) is the third most common childhood malignancy, and NHL accounts for approximately 7% of cancers in children younger than 20 years.[3,4] In the United States, about 800 new cases of NHL are diagnosed each year. The incidence is approximately ten cases per 1,000,000 people per year. Although there is no sharp age peak, NHL occurs most commonly in the second decade of life, and occurs less frequently in children younger than 3 years. NHL in infants is rare (1% in Berlin-Frankfurt-Munster [BFM] trials from 1986 to 2002). In this retrospective review, the outcome for infants was inferior compared with older patients with NHL. The incidence of NHL is increasing overall, and there is a slight increase in the incidence for those aged 15 to 19 years; however, the incidence of NHL in children younger than 15 years has remained constant over the past several decades. The incidence of NHL is higher in whites than in African Americans, and NHL is more common in males than in females. A review of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data on Burkitt lymphoma diagnosed in the United States between 1992 and 2008 revealed 2.5 cases/million person-years with more cases in males than in females (3.9:1.1). Burkitt lymphoma was more frequent in non-Hispanic whites (3.2 cases/million person-years) than in Hispanic whites (2.0 cases/million person-years). Immunodeficiency, both congenital and acquired (human immunodeficiency virus infection or posttransplant immunodeficiency), increases the risk of NHL. Epstein-Barr virus is associated with most cases of NHL seen in the immunodeficient population.