In Canada, there are about 10,000 children living with cancer today. Approximately 1,300 Canadian children and youth under the age of 19 develop cancer each year and some 230 die from the disease. Death rates from childhood cancers have declined by more than 50% since the early 1950s, thanks to major advances in our ability to treat cancers common to children.

Childhood cancers differ from cancers diagnosed at older ages both in the kind of cancer and in the way they respond to treatment. The three most common childhood cancers are leukemia (33%), central nervous system cancer (cancer of the brain or spinal cord) (20%) and lymphoma (11%).

Over the past 30 years, five-year survival from all childhood cancers has improved from 59% in the period 1973-1982 to 77% in the period 1993-2002. The survival gain has been greatest for leukemia, rising from 46% to 80%. Much of this progress is due to improved treatment in the late 1970s of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. Improved treatment for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma increased lymphoma survival from 70% to 87%.  Although progress has been slower for central nervous system cancers, survival has also improved and is now 69%.

Researchers continue to work on identifying the causes of childhood cancer and to search for better treatments. Current research includes studies of gene-environment interactions in childhood leukaemia, the investigation of factors affecting the resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy, and the potential for new less toxic treatments.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, World Cancer Day: Childhood cancer in Canada, January 28, 2006. Available at www.cancer.ca

Common Childhood Cancers


  • Leukemia is a disease of the blood cells and represents 25% of all childhood cancers in Canada.
  • The predominant type occurring in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia that affects the lymphocyte producing cells in the bone marrow.

Central nervous system tumours

  • These tumours occur in the brain and spinal cord and are the second most common form of childhood cancer in Canada.
  • They are much less diagnosed in many developing countries, partly due to lack of advanced diagnostic techniques.
  • In Canada, brain and spinal cord tumours represent 17% of all childhood cancers


  • Lymphomas are tumours of the lymphatic tissues and are the third most common cancer of children in Canada.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma is slightly more common than Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Canada.
  • In Canada, lymphomas represent 16% of all childhood cancers.

Soft tissue carcinoma

  • Soft tissue carcinoma includes rhabdomyosarcoma and fibrosarcoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer arising in cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles of the body. It is a typical soft tissue sarcoma of childhood that occurs more often in boys than in girls.
  • Soft tissue carcinoma accounts for 6% of all childhood cancers in Canada.


  • Neuroblastoma is a malignant disease of the sympathetic nervous tissue, originating in adrenal medulla or other sites.
  • This form of cancer typically occurs in children younger than 5 years of age with more than ¼ of the cases showing up in the first year of life.
  • This type of cancer represents almost 5% of all childhood cancers in Canada.

Bone tumours

  • Bone tumours arise in various types of cells of bone tissue and include osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma and others.
  • Bone tumours represent about 5% of all childhood cancers in Canada.

Renal cancer

  • The most common renal cancer in childhood is Wilms’ tumour, occurring mostly in children under five years of age.
  • Wilms’ tumour accounts for 4% of all childhood cancers in Canada.


  • Retinoblastoma is cancer of the retina, the nervous tissue of the eye.
  • About half of all cases are inherited.
  • Its incidence peaks in the first year of life, and most cases are diagnosed before the age of 5.
  • In Canada, retinoblastoma accounts for nearly 2% of all cancers diagnosed in children.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, World Cancer Day: Childhood cancer in Canada, January 28, 2006. Available at www.cancer.ca

Childhood Cancer in Québec – Facts & Figures

  • Childhood cancer is relatively rare in Québec; it represents approximately 1% of all cancers.
  • Childhood cancer remains the leading cause of disease-related death in children and adolescents between the ages of 1 and 19.
  • It is the second-leading cause of death in children and adolescents between the ages of 1 and 14.
  • About one in four children who are diagnosed with cancer will die of the disease./li>
  • Presently, more than 2,000 children are living with cancer in Québec.
  • 350 new cancer childhood cancer cases are diagnosed each year.
  • 1 out of every 400 children is afflicted with cancer before the age of 15.
  • Long-term side effects of chemotherapy treatment include: growth-related problems, learning disabilities, sterility, higher risk of secondary cancers, serious health issues leading to loss of life (30% of cases), serious short-term and long-term psycho-social and physical side effects.
  • Causes of childhood cancer are still unknown. However, it has been suggested that a genetic predisposition to the disease can play an important role in childhood cancer. There also seems to be strong link between fetal exposure to ionizing radiation and leukemia.
  • An ethyological link exists between the Epstein Barr virus and Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
  • An increase of 0.4% in diagnoses per year has been noted in patients aged 0 to 14 years.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada – Canadian Childhood Cancer Surveillance and Control Program. Available at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ccdpc-cpcmc.

Helpful Links

Canadian Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute of Canada

Children’s Oncology Group and the National Childhood Cancer Foundation

The International Society of Paediatric Oncology

Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation