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Childhood Cancer


About Childhood Cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It is not a single disease, but more than 100 different diseases.

Cancer is a collection of related diseases—there are more than 100 types of cancer. All types of cancer involve the uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. It can occur in any organ and many types of cells in the body. Cancerous cells can spread into nearby tissues or be carried to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

What causes childhood cancer?

Cancer is caused by changes to genes that control how our cells grow and divide. These genetic changes can be inherited from our parents or arise during a person’s lifetime. About 5 percent of cancers in children are caused by a genetic mutation that can be passed from parents to their children. Childhood cancers, like adult cancers, may be caused by a mix of behavioral, genetic and environmental factors. However, the specific risk factors for childhood cancers are different from those in adults and remain unclear for many cancers.

More information about possible causes of cancer in children is available in the fact sheet, Cancer in Children and Adolescents .

Who is at risk?

In children younger than 15 years old, cancer is the leading cause of death from disease. The types of cancers that develop in children differ from those that develop in adults. Of the twelve major types of childhood cancer, leukemia and cancers of the brain and central nervous system (CNS) account for 40% of all cases. The National Cancer Institute estimates that In the United States in 2019, 11,060 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among children from birth to 14 years, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease.

Childhood cancers we track:

Brain and Central Nervous System Cancer - Very little is known about the causes of brain and CNS cancers. For children, the known risk factors include being male, Caucasian, previous radiation therapy and rare hereditary conditions. Environmental factors have been investigated, but more research is needed to determine how the environment relates to these cancers.

Leukemia (Acute Lymphocytic & Acute Myeloid) - Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. Although it is often thought of as a children's disease, most cases occur in adults over the age of 65. Three types of leukemia are tracked: acute lymphocytic (ALL) in children and acute myeloid (AML) and chronic lymphocytic in all ages. For children, known risk factors for ALL include being male, age between two and five years, Caucasian, higher socio-economic status, exposure to radiation and certain genetic conditions. Known risk factors for childhood AML include, Hispanic, previous cancer treatments, exposure to radiation and certain genetic conditions. Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene have been linked to acute leukemia.

For more information on the cancers listed visit:

About the measures

Childhood cancers are shown for children under the ages of 15 and 20 and include all childhood cancers combined and the two most common types: leukemia and cancers of the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Rates are calculated using the U.S. Census Bureau annual population estimates; age adjustments are based on the age distribution of the U.S. standard population.

Rates of cancer consider population size, thus, making them more useful than raw number of cancers for comparisons between geographic areas or time periods. Differences in rates over time or between counties may reflect differences or changes in diagnostic techniques and criteria. Differences in rates may also be due to variations in socio-demographic characteristics and associated behaviors. When comparing rates across counties, it is important to note that a variety of non-environmental factors, such as access to medical care, personal behaviors, health status and diet affect the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer.

Measures only include records of diagnosed cancer cases reported to the Oregon State Cancer Registry (OSCaR). County of residence is based on the address at the time of diagnosis. Information is collected for each separate cancer when a person is diagnosed with more than one type of cancer. Tumor and cancer type definitions are based on the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Site Recode classifications. OSCaR does not collect information on prior residences or personal exposure history.

Related Indicators

For more information about cancer, please visit these websites:

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