There is no one single cause for cancer. Scientists believe that it is
the interaction of many factors together that produces cancer. The factors
involved may be genetic, environmental, or constitutional characteristics
of the individual.
Diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for childhood cancers are different
than for adult cancers. The main differences are the survival rate and
the cause of the cancer. The survival rate for childhood cancer is about
75 percent, while in adult cancers the survival rate is 60 percent. This
difference is thought to be because childhood cancer is more responsive
to therapy, and a child can tolerate more aggressive therapy.
Childhood cancers often occur or begin in the stem cells, which are simple
cells capable of producing other types of specialized cells that the body
needs. A sporadic (occurs by chance) cell change or mutation is usually
what causes childhood cancer. In adults, the type of cell that becomes
cancerous is usually an "epithelial" cell, which is one of the cells that
line the body cavity, including the surfaces of organs, glands, or body
structures, and cover the body surface. Cancer in adults usually occurs
from environmental exposures to these cells over time. Adult cancers are
sometimes referred to as "acquired" for this reason.