Category Archives: Leukemia

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.

8 Things You Can Do to Avoid or Minimize Benzene Exposure

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Benzene WarningHave you ever considered whether benzene may be being present in your workplace, community, or home?

Benzene is a widely used chemical. It is a colorless, flammable, and volatile organic compound with a pleasant, sweet smell.  Benzene is produced by the combustion of crude oil and gasoline. It is found in nature (e.g., in volcanoes and forest fires) and in cigarette smoke. It is also used to manufacture many types of products such as:

  • plastics
  • resins
  • nylon and synthetic fibers
  • rubbers
  • lubricants
  • dyes
  • detergents
  • drugs
  • pesticides

Benzene is a known environmental pollutant and carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia. Benzene exposure can also lead to numerous non-cancerous health problems that affect normal functions of the vital systems in the body such as cardiovascular, nervous, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems.

The question is, how do you protect yourself and your family from any health hazards resulting from excessive benzene exposure? Here are eight actions you can take:

  1. Get well-informed. Know where benzene is in your vicinity, including what home products contain benzene.
  2. Avoid tobacco smoke, including passive smoke. Benzene is one of the carcinogens released from tobacco smoke. It is estimated that about half of benzene exposure in the United States is from cigarette smoke.
  3. Reduce outdoor exposure in areas around gas stations and areas containing motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, where the air contains higher levels of benzene.
  4. Keep indoor environments ventilated. Benzene in indoor air comes from products like glues, paints, furniture wax, detergents, and certain drugs. According to some experts, indoor air generally contains higher levels of benzene than outdoor air.
  5. Read labels when you shop for groceries, esp. soft drinks.
  6. Know your work-related exposure and protect yourself properly. In addition, if your company uses benzene in manufacture, try to ensure that it takes preventive measures since people working in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to high levels of it.
  7. Be aware of other environmental sources of benzene. For instance, benzene can leak from underground storage tanks or from hazardous waste sites. Waste sites containing benzene can contaminate well water.
  8. In general, always do your best to avoid benzene and other toxic chemicals.

Overall, health damages associated with benzene exposure are serious, so don’t overlook this dangerous substance and take measures to prevent your exposure.


Leukemia risk and Lifestyle modifications

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

leukemiaJune is Men’s Health Month. Let’s celebrate it by enhancing public awareness of preventable health problems especially some cancers, and by encouraging early detection of cancer among men and boys. Today, let’s tackle a type of cancer that that you might not know a lot about—leukemia—with a focus on its risk factors.

Leukemia is a malignant cancer of the blood cells and develops in the bone marrow. According to National Cancer Institute, estimated new cases of leukemia in 2014 will total about 52,380, while death in 2014 will be about 24,090. There were an estimated 302,800 people living with leukemia in the United States in 2011.

What causes leukemia is still not completely known, although it has been shown that exposure to large amounts of radiation or certain toxic chemical such as benzene increases the risk of leukemia. Noticeably, in a recent publication from NIH-AARP diet and health study that examined 493,188 individuals, findings revealed that the risk of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML, one of four main types of leukemia) is directly associated with smoking and obesity, but inversely associated with vigorous physical activity, female sex and years of education. Therefore, the study suggests that lifestyle factors may affect the risk of this disease.

Given this, let’s approach this topic based on two categories: controllable and non-controllable risk factors for leukemia.

Controllable risk factors

1.  Smoking: Smoking releases thousands of chemicals including many toxic substances and carcinogens. Among them is benzene, which is a known carcinogen to human and known risk factor of leukemia. Cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure.

2.  Obesity: As mentioned earlier, NIH-AARP’s large population based epidemiologic research has demonstrated that obesity, measured by a high body mass index (BMI, 30 indicating obesity versus <25 kg/m2 normal), positively influences the risk of CML. Plus, obesity is a risk factor for cancer of breast, prostate, and colon as well as other cancers.

3.  Radiation exposure: Doses of radiation, including ionizing UV radiation from sunlight and tanning bed as well as from medical treatment, may add up.

4.  Diet: Poor nutrition or malnutrition leads to various diseases and increased risk for some cancers, although no associations of various dietary factors with leukemia was found in NIH-AARP study. Exposure to benzene from beverages may constitute a minor contribution to the risk, but it is clear that foods can influence both strength of the immune system and growth of cancer cells.

Non-controllable factors

1.  Gender: Men seem to have a higher incident of leukemia than women.

2.  Age: More than 65 percent of people diagnosed with leukemia are over the age of 55.

3.  Race: Leukemia is more common among white people than other races.

4.  Genetic factor: Although most leukemia have no family link, incidents cases among siblings or first degree relatives of some parents with leukemia may still put you at an increased risk for developing this disease. In addition, certain genetic disorders such as Down syndrome may also be a risk factor.

5.  Environmental factor: Specifically the carcinogen benzene is to be avoided. Long-term exposure to or contact with products containing benzene raises the risk of leukemia, whether it is occupation-related or in daily life. Benzene can be inhaled from the air. It is found in petroleum, cigarette smoke, industrial workplaces, and even in home environments where it may arise from some plastics, paints and detergents.

Preventative strategies

A healthy lifestyle is so critical for cancer prevention because at least 35% of cancer can be prevented by lifestyle modification. Even if you have leukemia, treatment can be enhanced by some simple healthy lifestyle strategies. These include (but not limited to):

  • Avoid radiation.
  • Avoid or minimize exposure to harmful chemicals and carcinogens, such as benzene.
  • Quit smoking and avoid passive smoking.
  • Maintain healthy weight through nutritious diet and regular exercise.
  • Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, and avoid benzene-hidden foods.
  • Limit the exposure to fumes from gasoline, as well as fumes from solvents, paints, and art supplies, especially in unventilated environment.
  • Get your benzene level tested if you have been exposed to benzene over a long period of time (e.g., a work-related exposure).
  • Consult your physician at once if you experience unexplained symptoms such as chronic fatigue, weight loss, appetite loss, frequent infections, night sweats, short of breath, ongoing low fever, or slow wound healing, which can be signs of leukemia.

In the end, we cannot control our age, gender, race, family history, or even some environmental factors, but we all do have power over our own lifestyles.


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