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Cancer Risks for Children

Cancer is one of the most regularly occurring and aggressive diseases facing our country. Taking many forms and having a variety of causes, this condition has affected millions of Americans, including children. In the past 30 years, there has been a relative increase in the incidence of invasive cancer in children. Cancer affects a much smaller number of children than older adults, with about 14 cases for every 100,000 children in the U.S.

Children can benefit highly from being a dependent on their parent’s or caretaker’s health insurance policy in order to prevent cancer. Having coverage gives a child access to medical services necessary to diagnose and treat an illness before it becomes cancer, or go through with cancer treatment if the disease develops. Because all children must be accepted by insurers for a health plan, even those with cancer, they can get the care they require to stay alive and healthy despite their disease.

 

Risks for Children

There are 12 main types of cancer affecting children, the most common of which are leukemia, lymphoma, and brain cancer. When approaching the teen years, a child’s risk of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer is increased. Factors that cause cancer in children is usually different than those causing cancer in adults, such as smoking or exposure to chemicals and toxins. Risk can sometimes increase when a child has previously received chemotherapy or radiation treatment for an older cancer incidence.

Most cases of pediatric cancer develop from noninherited changes in the genes of growing cells. As these mutations occur on an unpredictable basis, there is no effective way to prevent them. A doctor may discover early signs of cancer at regular checkups, though some symptoms can easily be confused for other more common illnesses. Typical symptoms include fever, swollen glands, frequent infections, bruises, or anemia. The following are the most common types of childhood cancers.

 

Childhood Leukemia

A cancer of the white blood cells, or immune system, leukemia is the most regularly diagnosed type of childhood cancer. When abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow, leukemia is at work. There are various types of leukemia, grouped under acute (fast growing) or chronic (slow growing), and children usually acquire an acute type. In most cases, the leukemia invades the blood fairly quickly, spreading to lymph nodes, spleen, and the central nervous system.

Risks

  • Inherited syndromes, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, and Klinefelter syndrome can increase a child’s risk of leukemia.
  • Inherited diseases causing immune system problems, including Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome and Bloom syndrome
  • Having siblings with leukemia doubles to quadruples a child’s risk.
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation as a child or early fetus
  • Exposure to chemotherapy
  • Immune system suppression, as with organ transplants

 

Prevention

  • Avoiding radiation
  • Maintaining a stable immune system

 

Lymphomas

Cancers generating in the lymphatic tissues can grow in the lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, tonsils, adenoids, and bone marrow. Though other types of cancer may spread to the lymphatic system, lymphomas distinctly originate there. Nearly 1700 children under age 20 are diagnosed with lymphoma in our nation each year. There are two broad groupings for this type of cancer, which are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These types differ based on the appearance of their malignant cells.

In most cases, there is no way to control the factors that produce lymphomas, as most stem from mutations in the blood cells. Regular checkups can sometimes diagnose early symptoms of lymphoma in the relatively infrequent cases where it is related to an inhereted immune problem, HIV, previous cancer treatment, or treatment of immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants. Chemotherapy is typically used to kill the cancer cells, and some cases use radiation. New treatments are in the development process to deliver chemotherapy medicines or radiation directly to the lymphoma cells in order to avoid damaging normal body tissues.

Childhood Lymphoma Risks

  • Severe immune deficiencies
  • Radiation treatments of chemotherapy as a child could develop lymphoma later in life.

 

Pediatric Brain Tumors

Malignant tumors of the brain are among the most common, and deadly, childhood cancers. Every year, 4,200 children are diagnosed with brain tumors, and 72 percent of those diagnosed are under age 15. With 130 different types of brain tumors, diagnosis and treatment is very difficult and specific. Though some children survive a brain tumor, their precarious location often leads to long-term side effects, which can be physical, developmental, or emotional. Though, like most childhood cancers, the risks and prevention methods are somewhat unclear, a few factors have been identified for the formation of brain tumors.

Risks

  • Race: brain tumors occur more often in whites than they do in other races
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation, which is used in cancer treatment and caused by atomic bombs. Radiation from more common sources, including electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation from microwave ovens and cellphones have not been proven as a cause of brain tumors.
  • Family history: a small number of brain tumors occur in people who have a family history of brain tumors or genetic syndromes that increase the risk for them.

 

Resources

For more information on these and other pediatric cancers, please visit the following sites.

American Cancer Society: Cancer in Children

National Cancer Institute: Childhood Cancers

Mayo Clinic: Brain Tumors

 

 

References:

 

1. American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts and Figures.” http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsfigures/index.

2. National Cancer Institute. “Cancer Causes and Risk Factors.” http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes.

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