What increases the risk of cancer in children?

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The cause of most children's cancers is unknown, but there are certain factors that may increase the risk of certain cancers developing. 

Unfortunately there is nothing a parent can do to prevent childhood cancer, as the risk factors linked to childhood cancers are not something we can control.   

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean your child will definitely get cancer. Sometimes children with no risk factors get the disease. 

Risk factors

  • Inherited medical conditions. Children with inherited conditions such as Down syndrome are more at risk of developing childhood leukaemia, but it is still very rare. 
  • Development in the womb. Rarer tumours such as Wilms´ tumour and retinoblastomas are believed to develop while the child is still in the womb. 
  • Infection. Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is a common infection among children. It is thought that EBV can develop into certain types of lymphoma. 
  • Previous radiotherapy. Children who have been treated with radiotherapy for cancer in the past have a slightly higher risk of getting another cancer in the future. 
  • Previous chemotherapy. Children who have been treated with chemotherapy for cancer in the past have a slightly higher risk of getting another cancer in the future.

It’s very rare for another child in a family to develop cancer, as very few cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene. Cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on to anyone who comes into contact with your child.  

If you feel your child may be at risk, first talk to your family doctor (GP) about your concerns. He or she may advise you to visit a specialist. Remember that if your child is diagnosed with cancer, it is not because you or your child did something wrong.

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