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What is cancer?

Childhood cancer is not a single disease type, but an umbrella group of diseases that include blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma), brain tumors, and other solid tumors of the organs, bones, or soft tissues. While childhood cancer is potentially life-threatening and generally requires intensive treatment, the majority of pediatric cancers are treatable.

In the U.S., more than 80 percent of children who get cancer will survive. Survival rates for children with cancer are higher than for adults.

Cancer in children is more rare than cancer in adults. Only about 1 percent of cancer cases in the U.S. occur in children. About 10,000 to 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States (compared to about 1.5 million adults).

Some types of cancer occur only in children, not in adults (such as neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, and other tumor types). Other cancer types can occur in children or adults, but the disease will progress differently and require different treatment for children versus adults.

The most common forms of pediatric cancer are leukemia, brain tumors, and lymphoma.

Childhood tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors tend to grow slowly and do not spread. Malignant tumors grow rapidly, can invade and destroy nearby normal tissues, and can spread throughout the body. Generally, malignant tumors are more serious and are more likely to be life-threatening. However, sometimes a benign tumor can be difficult to treat because of its location, whereas certain kinds of malignant cancers respond very well to therapy. The term "cancer" is generally used when a tumor is malignant, although pediatric cancer centers usually treat both benign and malignant tumors.

How we care for childhood cancer

Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center offers the combined expertise of both a world class cancer center and an internationally renowned children’s hospital. Neighboring institutes connected by pedestrian bridges, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital work together to offer seamless, integrated care for children with all types of cancer and blood disorders — including the rarest and most complex cases. Through our joint partnership, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s offers more specialists, more treatment options, and more clinical trials than almost any other pediatric center treating cancer and blood disorders in the world.

Your child’s core care team will include pediatric oncologists, radiotherapists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, nurses, and psychosocial and physical therapy specialists, among many others.

We are New England’s Phase I referral center for the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), so we offer clinical trials of investigational drugs unavailable at other regional centers.

Our childhood cancer survivorship programs provide long-term treatment and support for childhood cancer survivors.

Read more about Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Cancer | Programs & Services