Why Do Kids Get Cancer?

September 1, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Burton Appel, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Hematology Oncology, .

Stacey Rifkin Zenenberg, D.O. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Hematology Oncology.

Little is known about what causes cancer in children or what risk factors may increase a child’s chances of getting cancer, say pediatric hematologist/oncologists Stacey Rifkin-Zenenberg, D.O., and Burton Appel, M.D., who is also associate director of the Children’s Cancer Institute of Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.

There’s a low percentage of pediatric cancers that are associated with a family predisposition to cancer or with disorders that impact the immune system. “But for most children with cancer, there are no identifiable risk factors,” Dr. Appel says. “In terms of lifestyle risk factors, there’s very little we can tell parents to avoid or do differently.”

Importantly, Dr. Rifkin-Zenenberg says, children’s cancers are highly responsive to treatment, and the cure rates for childhood cancers are high. The NIH reports that childhood cancer deaths decreased by more than 50 percent between 1975 and 2010.

Signs to Watch

While there are a number of signs that could indicate cancer in kids, many of them could indicate another condition.

If your child is experiencing any of these issues, make an appointment with your child’s doctor:

  • Paleness or easy bruising
  • Unexplained persistent fever
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Unusual swelling or lumps
  • Persistent headaches, with or without vomiting

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, while rates of cancer in children have slowly increased since the 1970s, cancer in children is still rare with only about 15,000 cases in the United States each year.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.