Childhood Cancer Facts & Figures In Brief

Death Rate from Childhood Cancer Has Decreased for Decades

Each year, the American Cancer Society’s Surveillance and Health Equity Science program analyzes population-based data on cancer occurrence in the United States, including childhood cancer as part of its annual Cancer Statistics report and accompanying educational publication, Cancer Facts & Figures. The process is led by Rebecca Siegel, MPH.

Here are some key findings from the 2021 report for children (ages birth to 14) and adolescents (ages 15 to 19) in the US:

  • Cancer is the second most common cause of death among children (ages 1 to 14), following accidents.
  • 10,500 new cases* of cancer in children and 5,090 in adolescents are expected to be diagnosed in 2021. Since 1975, the rate of new diagnoses has been increasing slightly each year in both children (0.6% per year) and adolescents (0.7%). The reasons for these increases remain unclear.
  • 1,190 deaths from cancer in children and 590 deaths from cancer in adolescents are expected to occur in 2021. Cancer death rates in children and adolescents have decreased continuously for decades. The death rate for cancer has declined by more than half in both children and adolescents, from 4.9 (per 100,000) in 1975 to 2.0 in 2018 and from 5.9 to 2.9, respectively, largely due to improvements in treatment and high participation, especially among children, in clinical trials.


Find more statistics about childhood and adolescent cancer on the Cancer Statistics Center:

  • Estimated new cases and deaths
  • Historical trends in incidence rates
  • Historical trends in death rates
  • 5-year survival rates

Use the analysis tool in the drop-down menu to see any of these statistics in comparison to other types of cancer.

  • Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer, accounting for 28% of all newly diagnosed cases, followed by 26% of cases from brain and other nervous system tumors (including benign and borderline tumors).
  • In adolescents, brain and nervous system tumors are most common (including benign and borderline tumors), accounting for 21% of all cases, followed by 19% of cases from lymphoma. 
  • Between 1970 and 2017, remission rates of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) have achieved 90% to 100%. This seems to be mostly because of improvements in established chemotherapy drug regimens, rather than the development of new drugs. The death rate of leukemia dramatically declined over that same period, decreasing 83% in children and 68% in adolescents.
  • The 5-year survival rate for all types of cancer combined is 84% in children and 85% in adolescents. However, survival varies substantially by type and age.

* These numbers do not include benign and borderline malignant brain tumors because they were not required to be reported to cancer registries until 2004. To make statistical estimates like these requires 15 years of historical data.

Diagnosis of Brain Tumors Among Children and Adolescents Has Slightly Increased

"Although brain tumor survival is relatively high in children compared to adults, there are several tumor types for which survival remains dismally low. In addition, while enrollment in clinical trials is generally high in children diagnosed with cancer, racial/ethnic disparities in childhood brain tumor survival points towards a critical need for equitable enrollment in clinical trials for non-White children."Kim Miller, MPH

Learn about brain tumor statistics for children and adolescents.


Spotlight on ACS Childhood Cancer Research Publications

Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society (ACS) helps fund. These investigators are working to find answers that will save more lives from childhood cancer and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.  

Study Shows Childhood Cancer Survivors Can Expect to Have a Longer Life Expectancy Due to Improvements in Treatment Over the Last 30 Years

Can survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer expect to live longer due to improvements in treatment? We used simulation modeling to find out—by estimating life expectancy of survivors diagnosed in the last 30 years.

“Simulation modeling is a powerful tool for leveraging data from cohort studies and other sources to understand the lifelong risks childhood and adolescent cancer survivors face as adults and for identifying opportunities to improve care and long-term health for children diagnosed with cancer.”—Jennifer Yeh, PhD

See the highlight about Dr. Yeh's published study.


Potential New Hope for Infants with a Hard-to-Treat Leukemia

“Grants from the American Cancer Society (ACS) help researchers like me identify new therapies for cancer patients. One new drug my lab is developing is a targeted therapy for children with mixed lineage leukemia (MLL), which has a very poor prognosis.

"By blocking the interaction of the MLL protein with another protein called menin, we developed very potent small molecule inhibitors that effectively block leukemia cell growth and induce complete remission in mice with leukemia from patient samples.

"Our work led to identification of a very potent and selective drug candidate that is currently in phase I clinical trial in these young leukemia patients."—Jolanta Grembecka, PhD

See the highlight about Dr. Grembecka's published study.


Extramural Discovery Research Grants in Childhood Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists who conduct research about cancer at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review process to select the most innovative research projects proposals to fund. 

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Total Childhood Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2021

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Total Childhood Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2021

ACS Childhood Cancer Research News