What are the differences between cancers in adults and children?
The types of cancers that develop in children are often different from the types that develop in adults. Childhood cancers are often the result of DNA changes in cells that take place very early in life, sometimes even before birth. Unlike many cancers in adults, childhood cancers are not strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors.
There are some exceptions, but childhood cancers tend to respond better to treatments such as chemotherapy (also called chemo). Children’s bodies also tend to handle chemotherapy better than adults’ bodies do. But cancer treatments such as chemo and radiation therapy can cause long-term side effects, so children who survive cancer need careful attention for the rest of their lives.
Since the 1960s, most children and teens with cancer have been treated at specialized centers designed for them. Being treated in these centers offers the advantage of a team of specialists who know the differences between adult and childhood cancers, as well as the unique needs of children and teens with cancer. This team usually includes pediatric oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, pediatric oncology nurses, and nurse practitioners.
These centers also have psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, nutritionists, rehabilitation and physical therapists, and educators who can support and educate the entire family.
In the United States, most children with cancer are treated at a center that is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). All of these centers are associated with a university or children’s hospital. As we have learned more about treating childhood cancer, it has become even more important that treatment be given by experts in this area.
Last Medical Review: 09/20/2012
Last Revised: 01/18/2013