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What Causes Childhood Cancers?

Childhood cancers is rare and affects a minority of children in the U.S. and worldwide. Over the years, researchers have been discovering more about its causes. They have found links between childhood cancer and certain genetic conditions, medical conditions, and environmental factors (like radiation exposure).

Learning how childhood cancer works and its causes can help experts develop more effective treatments with fewer side effects. A better understanding of this type of cancer can also help families make the right medical decisions for cancer‐affected children and teens.

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Why do children get cancer? | How childhood cancer is caused

While most cancers in adults have known causes and risk factors, many childhood cancers do not. However, over the years researchers have identified some risk factors for cancer in children, including:

  • Inherited genetic factors: Some health conditions may be passed on through parent's genes. For example, a disease that affects the eyes is usually seen in children who inherited a faulty RB1 gene from their parents.1
  • Acquired genetic mutations: Apart from inherited genes, other genetic factors may be linked to childhood cancers. Some childhood cancers may be caused by DNA changes that happen before birth (while the fetus is developing) or during the early years of a child's life. These gene mutations can happen at random and are not inherited.
  • Infections: In some cases, childhood cancers may be linked to chronic infections like HIV, Epstein‐Barr virus, and malaria.2 Infections aren't as significant a cancer risk factor in developed countries.
  • Environmental factors: It’s difficult for scientists to study the effects of environmental exposures on children, so the impact of factors like chemical exposure is not as well understood in children as it is in adults. However, there are some links between childhood cancers and exposure to certain pesticides, solvents used in the home, radiation exposure, and air pollution.1

Is childhood cancer preventable?

As the risk factors and direct causes of childhood cancer are hard to pin down, there are no effective ways to screen for or prevent most childhood cancers. That said, medical advances have resulted in more effective cancer treatments for children. Children may also respond better to some treatments than adults do.

Is childhood cancer treatable?

Thanks to modern medicine and clinical trials, the outlook for most childhood cancers is much better today than it once was. In the mid‐1970s, around 58% of children (aged 0 to 14 years) and 68% of teenagers (ages 15 to 19 years) diagnosed with cancer survived at least 5 years.1 By 2011 through 2017, the survival odds improved substantially for these groups as around 84.7% of children and 85.9% of adolescents with cancer survived at least 5 years. The 5‐year survival rate for children with cancer is high.1

What to consider after finishing treatment for childhood cancer

Upon completing treatment for childhood cancer, it’s essential to continue monitoring your child's health with routine follow‐up care. This care includes regular medical check‐ups to ensure that there is no recurrence of cancer, managing potential long‐term side effects, and providing psychological support to aid in the transition back to everyday life.1 You should also keep an open line of communication with your child's medical team, as they can provide valuable guidance on the road to recovery and help navigate any challenges that may arise.

How to financially prepare for a childhood cancer diagnosis

Cancer treatments, tests, and related medical services can create financial burdens for families. Luckily, you can get help navigating medical costs using a combination of the following:

  • Health insurance: Health coverage provided by an employer can help with many treatment and diagnostic costs.
  • Cancer supplemental insurance: This type of insurance not only helps with medical expenses, but also provides cash benefits to help families with everyday costs. Aflac offers affordable cancer insurance with coverage suited for your unique needs.
  • Financial assistance: There are many aid organizations designed to support families of children dealing with cancer or other serious illnesses. Aid programs are easy to find through online cancer networks and websites. A social worker may also be able to find financial aid for families from local charitable organizations, religious institutions, and related networks.

Get a cancer insurance quote today

Since childhood cancers can be unpredictable, it’s important for parents and guardians of children to be vigilant about symptoms and early indications. Parents of children with persistent symptoms or a genetic predisposition to cancer should be better prepared to seek out expert opinions.

Having a cancer insurance policy can help make the journey easier and help lift some of the financial burden you may face. Aflac cancer insurance provides cash benefits that policyholders can use as they see fit. You can choose from different policy options and find coverage that suits your needs. Start chatting with an agent and get a quote today.

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