Childhood Cancer

Childhood Cancer Awareness

Cancer is the number two killer in the adult world.

Children get cancer too. it is the leading cause of death in children under age of 18. But cancer in children is rare.

There are a few common childhood cancers, but they’re are rare too. And the other cancers that children get are even more rare than the common ones listed here.

I recently have a few tragic inoperable rare cancer cases.

Due to HIPPA, I would not disgust these at all.

It’s often very sad to have to work with these dying children…and you just cannot help but wonder why are these young children suffering. They have barely experience this world or acquire any bad lifestyle habits yet, and yet their tiny bodies are already burden with the most deadly disease.

We generally know the lifestyle and cancer relationship in adults - being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, and lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking alcohol are all risk factors for developing cancers in adults.

Lifestyle factors usually take years to influence cancer risk, but they cannot be the cause of many childhood cancers, as many children with cancer has not even lived long enough for these risk factors to cause cancers.

But I would say environmental factors, specifically environmental toxins have something to do with childhood cancer.

Environmental factors, such as radiation (such as X-ray) exposure, radioactive (barium study) compound exposure, contaminated water source, pesticides/herbicides in produce, have been linked with some types of childhood cancers. Not to mention prenatal exposures, such as radiation exposure during pregnancy, cancer treatment during pregnancy, maternal smoking, excessive caffeine consumption might increase a fetal’s risk of cancers, but more studies are needed to explore these possible links.

There is another very important risk factors that are very seldom mentioned. US performed many nuclear testing in the Pacific Islands during World War II, leaving behind a lot of tragedy that continues to haunt these islands and their people today.

The US testing not only affected the psychosocial and economic aspects of these island, but the health of generations to come.

During those testing the environment was contaminated with radioactive and nuclear materials. Rare and unusual malignant growth started popping left and right in people on these islands, both adults and children.

The US government realized that it is their fault of what’s going on, there was an agreement between the United States and the Pacific Islanders. The US government will provide medical care to the residence of these affected islands.

And that’s how I get the experience with all kinds of rare unusual cancers in both children and adults.

Atomic Testing in the Marshall Islands

Related article: A Ground Zero Forgotten

DNA Changes

In recent years, scientists have made great progress in understanding how certain changes in our DNA can cause cells to become cancerous.

DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes – the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than just how we look. It also influences our risks for developing certain diseases, including some kinds of cancer.

Some genes (parts of our DNA) control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die. Genes that help cells grow, divide, or stay alive are called oncogenes. Others that slow down cell division or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.

Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Some children inherit DNA changes (mutations) from a parent that increase their risk for adult cancer later in life. These DNA changes are present in every cell of the child’s body, and can often be tested for in the DNA of blood cells or other body cells.

Some of these DNA changes only increase the risk of cancer, while others can cause syndromic disease that causes other health or developmental problems.

Acquired DNA Mutation

Childhood cancers are generally not associated with inherited DNA changes. They are likely the result of DNA changes or mutation that happen early in the child’s life, sometimes even before birth.

Every time a cell prepares to divide into 2 new cells, it must copy its DNA. This process isn’t perfect, and errors do occur sometimes, especially when the cells are dividing rapidly. This kind of gene mutation can happen at any time in life and is called an acquired mutation.
Acquired mutations usually start in one cell. This affected cell then passes the mutation on to all the cells that come from it as it divides into more cells. These acquired DNA mutations remains in the affected cells only and will not be passed on to his or her children.
Sometimes the causes of gene changes in certain adult cancers are known (such as cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke), but the reasons for DNA changes that cause most childhood cancers are not known.

Some may have outside causes like radiation exposure, and others may have causes that have not yet been found. But many are likely to be caused by random events that sometimes happen inside a cell, without having an outside cause.


Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer. It is cancer of the bone marrow and blood. They account for about 30% of all cancers in children. The most common types in children are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). These leukemias can cause bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, bleeding or bruising, fever, weight loss, and other symptoms. Acute leukemias can grow quickly, so they need to be treated (typically with chemotherapy) as soon as they are found.

Brain and central nervous system tumors are the second most common cancers in children, making up about 26% of childhood cancers. There are many types of brain tumors, and the treatment and outlook for each is different.

Most brain tumors in children start in the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brain stem. They can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred or double vision, dizziness, trouble walking or handling objects, and other symptoms.

Neuroblastoma starts in early forms of nerve cells found in a developing embryo or fetus. About 6% of childhood cancers are neuroblastomas. This type of cancer occurs in infants and young children. It is rarely found in children older than 10. This tumor can start anywhere but is usually in the belly (abdomen) and is noticed as swelling. It can also cause bone pain and fever.

Wilms tumor (also called nephroblastoma) starts in one, or rarely, both kidneys. It is most often found in children about 3 to 4 years old, and is uncommon in children older than age 6. It can show up as a swelling or lump in the belly (abdomen). Sometimes the child might have other symptoms, like fever, pain, nausea, or poor appetite. Wilms tumor accounts for about 5% of childhood cancers.

Lymphoma are cancers that start in the cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. They most often grow in lymph nodes and other lymph tissues, like the tonsils or thymus. Lymphomas can also affect the bone marrow and other organs, and can cause different symptoms depending on where the cancer is. Lymphomas can cause weight loss, fever, sweats, tiredness (fatigue), and lumps (swollen lymph nodes) under the skin in the neck, armpit, or groin.

The 2 main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma (sometimes called Hodgkin disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types occur in children and adults.

Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for about 3% of childhood cancers. It is more common, though, in 2 age groups: early adulthood (age 15 to 40, usually people in their 20s) and late adulthood (after age 55). Hodgkin lymphoma is rare in children younger than 5 years of age. This type of cancer is very similar in children and adults, including which types of treatment work best.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma makes up about 5% of childhood cancers. It is more likely to occur in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than 3. The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are different from those in adults. These cancers often grow quickly and require intensive treatment, but they also tend to respond better to treatment than most non-Hodgkin lymphomas in adults.

Rhabdomyosarcoma starts in cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. (These are the muscles that we control to move parts of our body.) This type of cancer can start nearly any place in the body, including the head and neck, groin, belly (abdomen), pelvis, or in an arm or leg. It may cause pain, swelling (a lump), or both. This is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. It makes up about 3% of childhood cancers.

Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the eye. It accounts for about 2% of childhood cancers. It usually occurs in children around the age of 2, and is seldom found in children older than 6. Retinoblastomas are usually found because a parent or doctor notices a child’s eye looks unusual. Normally when you shine a light in a child’s eye, the pupil (the dark spot in the center of the eye) looks red because of the blood in vessels in the back of the eye. In an eye with retinoblastoma, the pupil often looks white or pink. This white glare of the eye may be noticed after a flash picture is taken.

Bone cancers that start in the bone (aka primary bone cancers)occur most often in older children and teens, but they can develop at any age. They account for about 3% of childhood cancers.

Primary bone cancer is different from metastatic bone cancer, which is cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to the bones. Metastatic bone cancer is more common than primary bone cancer because most other types of cancer (including many cancers in adults) can spread to the bones.

Two main types of primary bone cancers occur in children:

Osteosarcoma is most common in teens, and usually develops in areas where the bone is growing quickly, such as near the ends of the long bones in the legs or arms. It often causes bone pain that gets worse at night or with activity. It can also cause swelling in the area around the bone.

Ewing sarcoma is a less common type of bone cancer, which can also cause bone pain and swelling. It is most often found in young teens. The most common places for it to start are the pelvic (hip) bones, the chest wall (such as the ribs or shoulder blades), or in the middle of the long leg bones.

Author: Anna

I'm a board-certified Pediatric Nutritionist, who takes care of medically-fragile infants and children in the US Defense System; I'm mother of a teenager and a real estate investor. I love spending time with friends and family playing tennis, golf, hiking and stand-up-paddling. And we live in Honolulu, Hawaii.