Childhood Cancer Statistics (13,712 estimated diagnosed in 2008)

The questions seems pretty simple: How many children are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States? A Google search will reveal 12,500 more than any other number. It is a number we have come to accept in the cancer parent circle. This number equates to 46 children diagnosed every week-day (another stat we readily accept). And, by using the stat that 20% die (more on this later), we state 2,500 die every year, or 7-8 every day (death occurs on any day, while diagnosis is more common on weekdays).

Are these numbers correct? From my investigation, the answer is no. The real estimate should be around 13,700 (see the section Stats below).

Data Problems

The problem is it is hard to determine. the pre-eminent source of information on cancer stats is SEER, the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Result group at the National Cancer Institute. They released a study in 1995 with cancer statistics broken down. In the report, you find the data broken down into different epidemiological groups with incidents per million.

The problem is the data is not consistent. In the introduction, cancer is broken down by percentages. In the individual sections, it is broken down by number of cases per million. Sometimes you have the raw number of cases per year and other times you have totals for the entire period (1975-1995). This leads to a nightmare of trying to figure out raw numbers. In addition, you have numbers that cannot match due to a lack of specificity on the percentages in the actual sections of the book.

Here is what you see

  • Introduction – broken down by percentages (ICCC Category and Diagnostic Group)
  • Leukemia – Cases per million for Diagnosis (ICD-O-2) and Diagnostic Group, basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers
  • Lymphoma – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers
    NOTE: when you use the leukemia numbers to determine total cases and then run against lymphoma percentage, you get a completely different number of cases
  • Central Nervous System – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers
  • Sympathetic Nervous System – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, age adjusted incident rates for selected cancers
  • Retinoblastoma – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, number of cases total for study period
  • Renal Cancers – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, Number of cases total for study period (with percentages), Age adjusted rates
  • Hepatic Tumors – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, Age adjusted incident rates for overall categories
  • Bone Tumors – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma  – Cases per million for Diagnosis (ICD-O-2) and Diagnostic Group, basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers
    NOTE: The ICD-O-2 is not as specific as with leukemia, as numerous codes are grouped on a single line
  • Germ cell – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, some age adjusted incident rates, by group
  • Carinomas – Basic summary stats (% and #) on overall numbers, age-specific incidents per million by type (no ICD-O-2)

If you try to put the stats together, you are comparing apples to oranges. For the record, I don’t think this was done on purpose to confuse people. I think, instead, this is the problem with having a committee create a report (specialists for each section) without stating specifications for exactly what data should be included. As the report is not designed to be used to calculate back numbers, there was no need for uniformity of reporting.


I decided to start with the information on the summary page, as it is the most complete without getting raw incident data (which requires filling out forms and approval). In order to figure out numbers, I need an estimate of the number of people ages 19 and under in the United States.

The estimate of population under 20 in 2008 (July 1) was 82,640,086. We will use this figure to figure out cancer rates. The incident rate, per million, was 165.92 per million in 2007, according to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. A year off, but close enough for government work. This would put the estimated total number of cases at 13,711.

NOTE: If we take this back to 1995, we have an incident rate of about 152 per million. This would put us at 12,479, which is about 12,500. What this means is, if the incident rate was still the same it was back in 1995, we would have 12,500 cases per year. As it is higher by 10%, the actual number is higher. Let me state that one in large numbers:

13,712 Estimated Cases 2008

What this means:

  • 38 children get cancer every day
  • 53 children are diagnosed every weekday (previously estimated at 46 per weekday)
  • A child is diagnosed every 38 minutes (using days) or every 27 minutes (using weekdays)
  • 7 – 8 children die every day
  • A child dies every 3 hours, 11 minutes and 40 seconds

I will use the SEER study relative percentages to give an idea of how many cases there are of each type of cancer. Here is a breakdown for the major groups of childhood cancers:

Category Iccc Category Name Cases
I Leukemia 3,497
II Lymphomas and reticuloendothelial neoplasms 2,125
III CNS and miscellaneous intracranial and intraspinal neoplasms 2,290
IV Sympathetic Nervous System 740
V Retinoblastoma 288
VI Renal tumors 603
VII Hepatic tumors 151
VIII Malignant Bone Tumors 768
IX Soft-tissue sarcomas 1,015
X Germ-cell, trophoblastic and other gonadal tumors 960
XI Carcinomas and other malignant epithelial neoplasms 1,262
XII Other and unspecified malignant neoplasms 14

Here is a more complete breakdown by subtype (the numbers do not match, but exactly, but it is probably due to rounding in the SEER data for percentages):

Category Diagnostic Group Cases
Ia Lymphoid Leukemia 3,167
Ib Acute Leukemia 565
Ic Chronic myeloid leukemia 113
Id Other specified leukemias 25
Ie Unspecified leukemias 126
IIa Hodgkins’ disease 1,106
IIb Non-Hodgkins’ Lymphoma 578
IIc Burkitt’s lymphoma 151
IId Miscellaneous lymphoreticular neoplasms 38
IIe Unspecified lymphomas 75
IIIa Ependymoma 176
IIIb Astrocytoma 1,093
IIIc Primitive neuroectodermal tumors 415
IIId Other gliomas 327
IIIe Miscellaneous intracranial and intraspinal neoplasms 38
IIIf Unspecified intracranial and intraspinal neoplasms 50
IVa Neuroblastoma and ganglioneuroblastoma 641
IVb Other sympathetic nervous system tumors 25
V Retinoblastoma 264
VIa Wilms’ tumor, rhabdoid and clear cell sarcoma 528
VIb Renal carcinoma 25
VIc Unspecified malignant renal tumors 0
VIIa Hepatoblastoma 88
VIIb Hepatic carcinoma 38
VIIc Unspecified malignant hepatic tumors 0
VIIIa Osteosarcoma 390
VIIIb Chondrosarcoma 38
VIIIc Ewing’s Sarcoma 239
VIIId Other specified malignant bone tumors 25
VIIIe Unspecified malignant bone tumors 13
IXa Rhabdomyosarcoma and embryonal sarcoma 364
IXb Fibrosarcoma, neurofibrosarcoma and other fibromatous neoplasms 264
IXc Kaposi’s sarcoma 13
IXd Other specifed soft-tissue sarcomas 188
IXe Unspecifed soft-tissue sarcomas 88
Xa Intracranial and intraspinal germ-cell tumors 88
Xb Other and unspecified non-gonadal germ-cell tumors 138
Xc Gonadal germ-cell tumors 528
Xd Gonadal carcinomas 88
Xe Other and unspecified malignant gonadal tumors 13
XIa Adrenocortical carcinoma 13
XIb Thyroid carcinoma 415
XIc Nasopharyngeal carcinoma 415
XId Malignant melanoma 364
XIe Skin carcinoma 0
XIf Other and unspecified carcinomas 314
XIIa Other specified malignant tumors 13
XIIb Other unspecified malignant tumors 50

This is about as complete as I can get without getting the raw SEER data and running the percentages to a much more accurate level. As the summary data is largely crap for determining true number of cases, this is the best I can do for now.

Others in this series:

·         Working with Relative Numbers (AIDS vaccine, Cancer Drugs)

·         The Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Shill Game

·         Understanding Appropriations – The Carolyn Price Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act


Peace and Grace,

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Site:


One Response to Childhood Cancer Statistics (13,712 estimated diagnosed in 2008)

  1. Greg,

    Thank you for taking the time to care.

    Praying you a wonderful day.

    Onward by faith!

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