Category Archives: Childhood Cancer

Never Miss a Chance to Protect Children from Cancer

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Cancer Boy w-Ribbon_uthscsa.eduImagine that a tiny, precious life with a bright future was taken away by cancer, the “big C”… Nothing is more devastating than that.

That’s why I’m going to focus on what we can do about childhood cancers, so to prevent the worst loss by all means.

First, what exactly causes childhood cancers remains unclear. Risk factors of childhood cancers are different from those in adult cancers. For instance, lifestyle-related risk factors (such as tobacco smoking, alcohol intake, unhealthy diet, and sun overexposure) do not play a significant role in childhood cancers. Environmental factors have little influence, largely due to the lack of direct exposure of the fetus. Most childhood cancers result from genetic mutations, i.e. genetic errors occur randomly and unpredictably whether it’s inherited or acquired.

So, am I suggesting that there is nothing we can do to prevent childhood cancers or protect our children? No.

If you are not well-informed, you may miss a chance to prevent the unthinkable. Here is an example. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is linked to cancers of cervix, oropharynx, rectum, or at other body locations. Nearly 93% cancer due to HPV-infection could have been prevented with recommended HPV vaccine as routine immunization for adolescent girls and boys starting at ages 11 to 12 years, following specific guidelines.

Can you see how one could miss the chance by doing nothing? Let me expand a little more on preventative measures.

1.      Childhood cancer prevention can start before conception in young women.

The mother-to-be’s well-being has an impact on the babies. For example, a pregnant, smoking mom can affect the offspring’s health in a hazardous way. To say the least, alcohol consumption and drug abuse fall into the same category. To minimize a child’s risk of cancer, young women should stay healthy and fit, and avoid or limit the exposure to toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants in daily life. Detect cancer early by genetic testing or genetic consulting, especially when you have a history of familial cancers.

2.      Cancer prevention with a healthy lifestyle should begin early in childhood.

A lifestyle cannot be developed overnight. Lifestyle factors also take years or decades to influence a cancer risk. Fostering a lifestyle with nutrition-rich diet, regular exercises, and healthy weight from a young age forward can greatly lower the risk of several cancers in adults, as accumulating evidence shows. Childhood obesity prevention can produce considerable health benefits. Also, postpone the time for kids to use cell phone or mobile devices to prevent brain tumor, the leading cancer death in children. Growing studies reveal an association of radiation with pediatric brain tumors, especially when young kids have the thinner skulls, with still developing nervous system and brain.

3.      A long-term protection: prevent secondary cancer after childhood cancer.

Cancer treatment like radiation can harm young kids’ organs or tissues because of their vulnerability and developmental stages. Radiation or chemo therapies for childhood cancers increase a risk for secondary cancer as one ages. Particularly common are tumors of the brain, breast, skin or spine, and bones. The higher doses of radiation, the greater risk these individuals have. So, it’s important to detect cancer early in the population of childhood cancer survivors, and make sure they have regular visits or check-ups, in addition to living a healthy lifestyle.

Let me conclude with the Quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Light tomorrow with today.All said and done, apply these outlined approaches today to protect every child, so that each child has a healthier, happier, and brighter life tomorrow.


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Eight Aspects of Childhood Cancer’s Unique Challenges

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Kids in red_bedes.orgChildren are our treasure, and children’s health is our nation’s wealth. Don’t you agree? Today, I briefly summarize why childhood cancers create unique challenges for us, for kids and their families, despite great progresses in the development of innovative or healing therapies. Here are 8 aspects of the “why”:

  1. The common cancers that develop in children and adolescents differ from those that occur in adults. The most common types of childhood cancer are leukemia, brain tumors and lymphoma, whereas cancers of lung, colon, skin, breast and prostate strike most American adults.
  2. Cancers in children and adolescents vary among ages. So, each age group needs its own target treatment and care.
  3. Young kids are still in their developmental stages and vulnerable to cancer treatments. For instance, treatment like radiation can harm their organs and tissues.
  4. Each childhood cancer needs its own set of treatments – although some cancers that seem different can be treated similarly. One-size-fits-all is not an effective approach.
  5. Lifestyle-related risk factors (e.g. smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity) play seemingly little role in childhood cancers, unlike many cancers of adults. Very few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with childhood cancer risk, although it might be unavoidable due to cancer treatment need.
  6. Prevention is challenging too. Pediatric cancers are generally caused by some key genetic mutations or changes. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about it.
  7. Childhood cancers are rare, complex and aggressive in nature and in a small population; thereby posing challenges to research and development of new therapies.
  8. Survivors of childhood cancers face a life-long risk of developing another cancer. First, the treatments themselves have the potential to cause cancer. Second, young survivors also have to live with health problems (so-called late effect from cancer treatment) for the rest of their entire life. Sometimes the late effect can seriously affect body and mind.

While we’re embracing the heartbreak of childhood cancers, we should also care about the quality of life for young cancer patients and their families. One important thing in fighting childhood cancers is to cultivate in your children a healthy lifestyle at an early age, so that you can lower your children’s risk of getting cancer later in life.

So, knowing the unique challenges of childhood cancers, what will you do to be a part of a fighting force? Remember: a little effort adds up! It can be as little as spreading the word!


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How to Prevent Childhood Cancer

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Yellow ribbon_Childhood cancerApproximately 15,700 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Among them, an estimated 1,960 deaths are expected. Are you aware of these sober statistics?

Losing a child to cancer is unthinkable pain and despair to all parents, which is why we call to prevent the worst loss, and why this post will focus on education. I will help you understand potential risk factors and powerful strategic actions to prevent childhood cancer. Let’s dive right into it.

Characteristics of childhood cancers

The types of cancer that develop in children and adolescents differ from those that occur in adults. Cancers of lung, colon, breast, prostate and skin affect most American adults. However, the most common types of childhood cancer are leukemia, tumors of brain and central nervous system, and lymphoma. Some cancers from embryonic cells and/or in developing organs include neuroblastoma (peripheral nervous system), medulloblastoma (brain), nephroblastoma or wilms tumor (kidney), and retinoblastoma (retina of the eye), which are rarely seen in adults. Also, incidences of these childhood cancers vary by age.

What causes childhood cancer remains unclear. Different cancers have different risk factors. Again, unlike many cancers of adults, lifestyle-related risk factors (such as tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diet, etc.) do not play a significant role in a child’s risk of getting cancer. On the other hand, most childhood cancers result from inherited gene mutation or environmental factors or both, based on current research findings.

So, am I suggesting that we cannot do anything to prevent childhood cancer? No.

Strategies you can use and actions you can take

1.      Detect cancer early by genetic testing.

DNA makes up our genes and certainly influences our risks for developing certain diseases including cancer. A child may inherit DNA mutations from a parent that can increase his/her risk of cancer. The DNA changes are present in every cells of the child’s body, and the changes can be identified by testing the DNA of blood cells or other cells from the body. Genetic consulting is constructive for someone with a history of familial cancers.

2.      Delay the time for kids to use cell phone or mobile devices.

Brain tumor is the leading cause of cancer death in children. Radiation is a potential childhood cancer risk factor. There is growing evidence that it is associated with brain tumors, particularly because of the thinner skulls, still developing nervous system and brain of children. So be aware of electromagnetic fields and ionizing radiation. Don’t allow kids to use mobile phones, at least delay the time they start using it and limit the time they use it too.

3.      Avoid or limit environmental toxins in daily life.

I understand that it’s virtually impossible to escape environmental pollutants and toxic chemicals entirely nowadays. Environmental toxins are probably the most invasive and cumulative bombardment to a child’s early development and, of course, the threat to their health. Unquestionably, you can make every effort or make simple lifestyle choices to avoid your exposure to the following everyday toxins:

  • Heavy metals – found in mercury fillings, treated woods, vaccines, and factory farmed fish, sometimes in water
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – found in factory farmed fish
  • Asbestos – found in many building materials made before the mid to late 1970s
  • Dioxins – found in the fat of factory farmed animals
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – found in cosmetics, dry cleaned clothes, air fresheners, deodorants, paints and bug repellents
  • Passive smoking – A cigarette releases more than 7000 chemicals including carcinogens. Tobacco products damage almost every organ in the body, from mouth, eyes, lungs, guts, reproductive organs to bladder and bones.

4.      Avoid or minimize pesticides use at home. 

Exposure to pesticide is perhaps one of the most dangerous forms of environmental risk. The contribution of environmental risk factors in the context of genetic predisposition has been reported with inconsistent results. However, one human study showed an increased risk of leukemia in children whose mothers were working in agriculture and exposed to pesticides during pregnancy.

Pesticides can be found in various areas in a household, from garden sprays, bug repellents, head lice shampoos and flea sprays on your animals, to non-organic fruits and vegetables as well as factory farmed meats.

5.      Grow your own toxin-free vegetables or go organic.

You will get more vitamins, more minerals and more micro-nutrients and zero or less pesticides. One more bonus – it keeps you stay physically active.

6.      Quit smoking, esp. during pregnancy.

Tobacco smoking contains seventy known carcinogens and causes various types of cancer in adults. Do you want to take the risk of releasing cancer-causing substances into the blood stream that may travel to your baby’s body?

7.      Live a healthy lifestyle.

Lifestyle factors usually take many years to influence cancer risk, but it’s never too late to develop it. Eat plenty of nutrient-rich, antioxidant-rich foods, engage in physical activities, keep a positive attitude, and maintain a healthy weight. Living a healthy lifestyle can benefit not only yourself, your children’s health but also the future generations to come.

If you think this post is helpful, please share. Thanks.

How Childhood Exposure to Toxic Chemicals Can Increase Cancer Risk

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Everything we breathe, see, ingest and touch is made up of chemicals. This is a combination of nature and science as well as a way of life. However, the exposure to toxic chemicals around us has become a growing health concern, and particularly disturbing is its negative impact when exposed during childhood.

Do you know that of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States, only a few hundred have been tested for safety? Today I will help you understand how toxic chemicals exposure can increase cancer risk.

The exposure of children to toxic chemicals may occur at different stages of their lives including:
-    embryonic (i.e. in utero or intrauterine) or prenatal exposure
-    postnatal (i.e. after newborn) exposure
-    teenage/puberty to later adult exposure

Obviously these are major developmental periods, and young kids are very susceptible to toxins. Some of DNA-damaging substances can have greater impacts on one’s early life stage, and others might have harmful effects that last for a lifetime. Another issue is once versus repeated exposure. For example, taking a X-ray examine is single exposure, but using chemically loaded daily products would be repeated exposure.

Nowadays, the exposure to toxic chemicals takes place virtually indoor and outdoor environment. The food we eat, the water we drink, the products we use (from cleaners, pesticides, plastic items to toys) all contain toxic chemicals and/or carcinogens. Then we breathe the air with environmental pollutants. Think about this: a mom’s uterine is the first environment for a baby. If the mom exposes herself to toxic chemicals during pregnancy when the risk of damaging consequences seems to be the highest, imagine what impact this has already had and will have on the baby? The uterine should be the safest place in the world for a developing baby.

To raise your awareness of children’s environment associated with cancer risk, keep in mind that many toxic chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens are NOT tested and/or regulated. It’s more urgent than ever to safeguard yourself and your children at home, at work and in a larger community. Research has suggested that fetal carcinogenic exposure might lead to predisposition to develop cancer during childhood or in later life.

Start Cancer Prevention in Childhood

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Start in Childhood_1408737-mDid you know that the leading cause of death by disease among children under age 15 in the U.S. is cancer? It’s true. Each year more than 10,000 childhood cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. Worldwide, almost 100,000 children die annually from cancer before the age of 15 years.

Losing a child to cancer brings unthinkable pain and despair to the child’s parents, which is why all parents need to do whatever they can, starting from early on, to prevent such a terrible loss.

The most common childhood cancers are brain and central nervous system tumors, leukemia, and lymphoma. There are also some rare forms of pediatric cancer, such as Wilms tumor. The causes of childhood cancers remain largely a mystery. It’s unlikely that known adult lifestyle-related risk factors (such as first-hand smoking and alcohol) influence a child’s risk of getting cancer. Some studies indicate that most childhood cancers result from inherited gene mutations, environmental factors, or interactions between genetic and environmental factors.

Because genetic errors occur randomly and unpredictably, there is little you can do to prevent them except to insist on a healthy lifestyle for your child. Cancer prevention and healthy habits should start from childhood so that we can protect our children from developing cancer when they are children and also later, as adults. The earlier that children adopt a healthy lifestyle, the better off they will be in their overall health and wellness and the more likely they will stay with healthy living in the long term. It is also very important to prevent early-life exposure to toxic substances that can be harmful to children and affect their health decades later.

Fostering a healthy lifestyle for our children can be a challenge given modern society’s hectic lifestyle. For example, everyone knows it’s important to eat more vegetables and fruits, but it’s easy to fall into the fast food or junk food trap. Because we often have so much to do, we also tend to have many excuses to keep both ourselves and our kids from being physically active. But even with a hectic schedule, we need to make time to protect our children from developing cancer now or in the future.

my-kids-1186542-mHere are 10 ways to protect your kids from childhood cancer:

1.      Avoid or minimize exposure to toxic chemicals.
2.      Avoid exposure of your kids to secondhand smoke.
3.      Avoid or minimize radiation exposure.
4.      Limit cell phone use.
5.      Practice sun protection.
6.      Prevent childhood obesity with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
7.      Drink safe, filtered water.
8.      Protect your child from infectious diseases.
9.      Educate teens to practice safe sex.
10.    Ensure your kids’ regular checkups for early detection of any suspicious growths.

As the saying goes, “Our children’s health is our nation’s wealth.” At present, the best strategy to prevent childhood cancer and cancer later in life is your helping your kids develop a healthy lifestyle based on your cancer awareness.

Image credit: by milan6; by coloniera2