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Overview of Pediatric Cancer

By

Kee Kiat Yeo

, MD, Harvard Medical School

Last review/revision Jan 2023
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In the US, the overall incidence of cancer in children and adolescents has increased over time. From 1975 to 2022, rates increased by approximately 0.8 per 100,000 each year. However, death rates decreased from 1970 through 2019 by 71% in children (from 6.3 to 1.8 per 100,000) and by 61% in adolescents (from 7.2 to 2.8 per 100,000) (1 General references In the US, the overall incidence of cancer in children and adolescents has increased over time. From 1975 to 2022, rates increased by approximately 0.8 per 100,000 each year. However, death... read more ).

Cancer is a major cause of pediatric mortality. In the US, cancer is the second most common cause of death among children 1 to 14 years old (surpassed only by accidents) and is the fourth most common cause of death among adolescents 15 to 19 years old.

In the US in 2018, it was estimated that there were 483,000 survivors of childhood cancer (ie, first diagnosed before age 20; 4 General references In the US, the overall incidence of cancer in children and adolescents has increased over time. From 1975 to 2022, rates increased by approximately 0.8 per 100,000 each year. However, death... read more ). Children who survive cancer have more years than adults to develop long-term consequences of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, which may include

  • Poor growth

  • Delayed or absent puberty

  • Infertility

  • Cardiac damage

  • Psychosocial effects

  • Developmental and/or neurologic deficits

  • Development of secondary cancers (in 3 to 12% of survivors, varying with their initial cancer and type of treatment)

Consensus guidelines on screening for and management of long-term consequences are available from the Children's Oncology Group.

Because of the severe consequences and complexity of treatment, children with cancer are best treated in centers with expertise in childhood cancers.

In addition, targeted therapy is another newer treatment approach that has been developed to target proteins that control how cancer cells proliferate and metastasize. These therapies typically target a specific genetic mutation and are the foundation of precision medicine. Several different kinds of targeted therapy are used in pediatric cancers with specific mutations. Some examples of targeted therapy include imatinib for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia and larotrectinib for the treatment of solid tumors with NTRK gene fusions.

Children who are newly diagnosed with cancer should be evaluated for a cancer predisposition syndrome by a cancer genetics team. A cancer predisposition syndrome is a germline genetic mutation that increases the chances of developing cancer at an earlier age compared to the risk for the general population.

The psychosocial impact of being diagnosed with cancer and the intensity of the treatment may be overwhelming to the child and family. Maintaining a sense of normalcy for the child is difficult, especially given the need for frequent hospitalizations, outpatient visits, and potentially painful procedures. Overwhelming stress is typical, as parents struggle to continue to work, be attentive to siblings, and still attend to the many needs of the child with cancer. The situation is even more difficult when the child is being treated at a specialty center far from home.

General references

More Information

The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Gleevec
VITRAKVI, VITRAKVI Solution
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