We describe the survival patterns of 10,791 Italian children (age 0-14) diagnosed with cancer during 1989-1998 and who were included in the hospital-based registry of the Italian Association of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology. Five-year cumulative survival percentages were 76% for lymphoproliferative disorders and 68% for solid tumours. Survival rates in 1994-1998 significantly improved for acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL), acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and Wilms' tumour. Gender and age were determinants of survival for some specific types of cancer. Girls with ALL and neuroblastoma exhibited a significant advantage (hazard ratio HR 0.72, 0.62-0.83) and disadvantage (HR 0.73, 0.59-0.90) over boys, respectively. Children with a Wilms' tumour diagnosed above age 3 had a worse prognosis than younger children (HR 2.3, 1.4-4.1). The persisting gender-related difference in survival rate for ALL requires understanding as to whether it is attributable to delays in the adoption of more recent therapeutic protocols, while the corresponding findings for Wilms' tumour and neuroblastoma deserve further biological interpretation.