Brain Cancer Surpasses Leukemia as Deadliest Childhood Cancer

By Administrator December 1, 2021

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about the 15,780 U.S. children diagnosed with cancer each year.

While childhood cancer is often associated with leukemia, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that brain cancer is now the deadliest pediatric cancer.

In 2014, nearly one in three pediatric cancer deaths were due to brain cancer while leukemia caused one in four pediatric cancer deaths, according to CDC data.

This is a reversal of previous years. Brain cancer has now surpassed leukemia as the deadliest form of childhood cancer because of advances in leukemia treatment. Report author Sally Curtin told Reuters:

“Forms of leukemia that a generation ago were almost universally fatal are now almost universally curable.”

Brain cancer, however, has remained challenging to treat, in part because the blood-brain barrier, which is designed to protect the central nervous system from toxins, makes chemotherapy treatment more difficult.

The CDC report found 445 children died from pediatric leukemia in 2014 compared to 645 in 1999. Brain cancer deaths among children increased from 516 in 1999 to 534 in 2014.

In terms of cancer incidence, there are still more new cases of childhood leukemia diagnosed each year than brain cancer, however leukemia is now easier to treat than it has been in decades’ past. Together, leukemia and brain cancer account for the majority of pediatric cancers. According to the CDC report:

“In both 1999 and 2014, more than one-half of all cancer deaths among children and adolescents aged 1–19 years were attributable to either leukemia or brain cancer. These two sites combined accounted for 53.4% of all cancer deaths to persons aged 1–19 years in 1999 and 54.8% in 2014.”

Other common sites of deadly cancer among children include:

  • Bone and articular cartilage
  • Thyroid and other endocrine glands
  • Mesothelial and soft tissue

When combined with leukemia and brain cancer, these cancer types accounted for more than eight out of 10 cancer deaths among U.S. children in 2014. A small percentage of pediatric cancer deaths were also caused by cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis.

Overall, cancer death rates among children have shown “marked declines” since the mid-1970s. The CDC report noted that from 1999 to 2014, the cancer death rate for children aged 1 to 19 years declined 20 percent.

Although the causes of childhood cancer remain largely unknown, advances in research and treatment have pushed the five-year survival rate to 80 percent in recent decades.

Below, discover how one Gateway-funded clinical trial is improving treatment and outcomes in pediatric brain cancer.

Gateway’s steadfast vision is to shape a world in which a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared. But we can’t do it alone. Help us fund more breakthrough clinical trials like Tumor Paint. Together, we can conquer cancer!


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Data Brief September 2016
The Washington Times September 16, 2016
Reuters September 16, 2016

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