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Infant Cancer at a Glimpse

The age of peak incidence of cancer in children occurs during the first year of life, in infants. The average annual incidence in the United States, 1975-1995, was 233 per million infants. Several estimates of incidence exist. According to SEER, in the United States:

  • Neuroblastoma comprised 28% of infant cancer cases and was the most common malignancy among these young children (65 per million infants).
  • The leukemias as a group (41 per million infants) represented the next most common type of cancer, comprising 17% of all cases.
  • Central nervous system malignancies comprised 13% of infant cancer, with an average annual incidence rate of nearly 30 per million infants.
  • The average annual incidence rates for malignant germ cell and malignant soft tissue tumors were essentially the same at 15 per million infants. Each comprised about 6% of infant cancer.

According to another study:

Leukemia (usually ALL) is the most common infant malignancy (30%), followed by the central nervous system cancers and neuroblastoma. The remainder consists of Wilms’ tumor, lymphomas, rhabdomyosarcoma (arising from muscle), retinoblastoma, osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma.

Teratoma (a germ cell tumor) often is cited as the most common tumor in this age group, but most teratomas are surgically removed while still benign, hence not necessarily cancer. Benign teratomas are not reportable to SEER. Prior to the widespread routine use of prenatal ultrasound examinations, the incidence of sacrococcygeal teratomas diagnosed at birth was 25 to 29 per million births.

Female and male infants have essentially the same overall cancer incidence rates, a notable difference compared to older children.

White infants have higher cancer rates than black infants. Leukemias accounted for a substantial proportion of this difference: the average annual rate for white infants (48.7 per million) was 66% higher than for black infants (29.4 per million).

Relative survival for infants is very good for neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor and retinoblastoma, and fairly good (80%) for leukemia, but not for most other types of cancer.

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