There may be nothing more upsetting or difficult to process than seeing a child with cancer. Unfortunately, about 175,000 children under the age of 14 die each year because of cancer. In the United States, cancer is the leading cause of death for children.
While statistics like these are certainly awful and shocking, there is another statistic that we can share with you to provide a little optimism.
Because of improvements in therapies and medical diagnostic tests, more than 80% of childhood cancer patients become long-term survivors.
So, let’s explore some of the most common children’s cancer types and ways to prevent them.
Common Types of Childhood Cancer
Surprisingly, the most common types of cancer that affect children are not those that impact adults. While this certainly isn’t all of the types of cancer that children suffer from, some of the common types include:
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Bone cancer
There are a few other types of cancer that children are commonly diagnosed with, as well as some rare ones that are typically only found with adults.
Leukemia is a general term used to describe cancer found in the blood and the bone marrow. These types of cancers are the most common types of childhood cancer, and account for 28% of all childrens’ cancer.
Brain and spinal cord tumors
Making up around 26% of cases of children with cancer, brain and spinal cord tumors are the second most common type of childhood cancer.
Estimates indicate that around 6% of childhood cancers are of the neuroblastoma type. These typically start early in the nerve cells of a developing fetus or embryo.
Why Do Children Get Cancer?
Around 420,000 children currently live in the United States with cancer, with thousands more around the world.
One of the first questions that come to parents of children with cancer is what could we have done to prevent this?
Unfortunately, childhood cancer is not well understood. In adults, we may be able to attribute certain cancers to certain environmental or lifestyle factors (i.e. smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary choices), in children, this isn’t as easy.
In fact, for many children with cancer, it is the result of mutations or cancer-causing genetic changes. These tend to occur by chance and affect about 8% of children who end up with cancer.
How to Prevent Childhood Cancer
For these mutations that cause cancer, there’s unfortunately nothing that can be done to prevent it from occurring. However, there are some ways that we can minimize our children’s risk of cancer, and many of these tips will help us to remain cancer-free, too.
- Don’t use tobacco. Secondhand smoke has been associated with a 25% increased risk of cancer—and it also increases the child’s chances of one day becoming a smoker themselves.
- Choose a healthy diet. Diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with antioxidants that help to remove free radicals in the body. This helps to support a healthy immune system and will block the formation of chemicals that cause cancer.
- Use sunscreen. Sunburns, even just a single one, can increase a child’s risk for skin cancer. Always use sunscreen (at least SPF15) and cover up your child with a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of glasses.
- Limit exposure to chemicals. We’re exposed to a lot of chemicals—probably far more than we would ever imagine. Some of these, like indoor insecticides, have been associated with a 47% increased risk for leukemia. Other chemicals, like those found in our body care products, cleaning chemicals, and even clothing should be avoided. A list of harmful ingredients can be found here.
- Encourage exercise. Certain hormones, like insulin and estrogen, have been linked to breast, bowel, and uterine cancers. Regular exercise helps to stabilize these hormones, in addition to having several other benefits.
- Promote a healthy body weight. Similarly, fat in the body has been associated with the above hormones, and also how cancer cells grow. Obesity has also been linked to certain types of cancer including liver, kidney, breast, and esophageal.
We hope that you found this article useful and that you’re not dealing with childhood cancer for your family or someone you know. These tips, while directed for children, can be used by anyone to live a healthier and more fulfilled life.