Cancer can strike at any age, from infancy through adulthood. But the cancers that affect children are unique in several key ways. Here’s a breakdown of how childhood cancer is different from adult cancer.
Children get different cancers than adults do.
The most common cancers that adults get are lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, but these are extremely rare in children. The most common cancers in children are leukemia, brain tumors, lymphomas and sarcomas. Some childhood cancers, like retinoblastoma and neuroblastoma, are almost always diagnosed in young children.
Cancer behaves differently in children than in adults.
Children’s bodies are different from adult’s, and even when it’s the same type of cancer, childhood cancer tends to behave differently than adult cancer. This is why it’s so important that children with cancer are treated at a pediatric cancer center, where they can be cared for by a team that specializes in children with cancer and their unique needs.
Childhood cancers are aggressive.
When an adult is diagnosed with cancer, they can often take some time before beginning treatment to visit with family, take a special trip or cross some things off their bucket list. But children typically need to start treatment right away. This is because their cancers tend to be more aggressive, and they are often more advanced when they are diagnosed.
Childhood cancers are treated differently than adult cancers.
Because their cancers tend to be aggressive, children with cancer need aggressive treatment. This makes them more susceptible to late effects — side effects that can surface months or years after treatment ends. Two out of three childhood cancer survivors will experience late effects from their treatment, and some — like heart disease, diabetes and secondary cancers — can be life threatening. Most childhood cancer survivors need to be monitored for these late effects for the rest of their lives.
There’s nothing a parent can do to prevent their child from getting cancer.
Doctors don’t know why some children get cancer. Unlike many adult cancers, childhood cancers aren’t caused by lifestyle choices, like diet and smoking. Though very rare, there have been some cases where children developed cancer from exposure to environmental toxins, such as polluted drinking water. And there are some genetic conditions, like Down syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, that increase a child’s risk of getting cancer. But for the most part, childhood cancers happen because of spontaneous genetic mutations, or random changes in the child’s DNA. Because these changes happen randomly, there’s no way to predict who will get childhood cancer and when, and there’s no way to stop it from happening (though it’s possible scientists could find a way in the future).
We can’t stop childhood cancer from striking, but we can give our support to the children and families facing the most difficult time of their lives. Your donation to the American Childhood Cancer Organization will help us continue to advocate for and provide resources and support to children with cancer and their families. Please give today.