Many childhood cancers are rare and therefore it is more difficult to know what the risk factors for them can be. There are links to age and sex, for example, but unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to change these. However, there are some risks that can possibly be avoided.
It is well known that smoking is a risk of cancer, both for smokers themselves and in the form of passive smoking for those who live with a smoker or are regularly exposed to smoke. In children this is also a risk to one form of childhood cancer called hepatoblastoma and it is thought that it could possibly also be a risk factor in some types of childhood leukaemia. This means that if parents smoke in the home, car or even when out in the garden or street with their children, they could be increasing the child’s risk of contracting cancer, as well as their own of course.
It is possible that parents exposure to certain carcinogens could be linked to childhood cancer in their children. One of these is a possibility that maternal exposure to painting could lead to problems in the child. There is evidence that maternal exposure to x-rays during pregnancy is a risk factor and therefore something that is no longer done. There is limited evidence for this thought at the moment. There is also limited evidence that exposure to radiation could be a risk factor in childhood leukaemia. The exposure to UV radiation from the sun or from sun beds could be a risk factor in childhood skin cancer.
There is evidence that if a child has delayed exposure to common childhood infections it could increase their risk of getting lymphoblastic leukaemia. This particular type of cancer is also associated with children not having allergies. Some cancers are also thought to be caused by congenital disorders. There is also some evidence to show a link between birth weight and certain cancers and there is also some evidence to show that breastfeeding can protect against lymphoblastic leukaemia.
With very little evidence, it is difficult to know exactly what to do to protect children from cancers. However, it seems that breast feeding babies, keeping them away from second hand smoke, being safe in the sun and avoiding sun beds are the most clear links. It is also wise to keep them away from radiation risks and for parents to keep themselves in the best possible health before conceiving by making sure they do not exposure themselves unnecessarily to carcinogens. There is also some evidence to show that consuming oranges and bananas in the first few years of life can reduce the risk of childhood leukaemia. It does seem though, that there is really not very much that parents can do to protect their children and that perhaps just being aware of the potential symptoms could be more important. Early diagnosis is a very important factor in improving the chance of survival and therefore being aware of when to see a GP and have symptoms checked out is really important. This is the same in adult cancer and some of the symptoms can be similar, but not all of them.