There are more than 9k kids get cancer in the US every year (1 in 450). The most common are leukemias, lymphomas, & brain tumors, but there are many different kinds. Cancer is a group of more than hundred diseases caused by the cells in a person’s body multiplying out of control. Cancer is separated into different types depending on what sort of cell it originated from (blood, brain, lung…) & if it invaded nearby body parts (a tumor) or spread to other organs (metastasis). That can be a smidge simplified, but you get the idea.
The genes of your children, the DNA they inherit from you, influence their risk of cancer–not something you can change. But lifestyle & environment also influence their risk, & there you can have an impact.
That impact includes not only your kid’s exposures in childhood but also the example they see in your behavior & the habits you establish that will carry forward into their adult lives.
What can you do to lower getting the cancer level of your child?
- First, the obvious one: don’t use tobacco, & don’t allow anyone else to smoke around your kids. It’s easier to said than done, but an estimated four out of five cancers are caused by tobacco. The poisons in tobacco damage the DNA, increasing the incidence of fourteen different cancers including lung, some leukemias, voice box, throat, liver, kidney… Secondhand smoke alone increases cancer risk by 25%. The sidestream smoke off the burning end of a cigarette has 3 times the carbon monoxide, 10 times the nitrosamines & hundreds of times the ammonia of exhaled smoke. Add to this that if you smoke, the chances of becoming a daily addicted smoker increase your child by 25 times, boosting their risk even more. Just don’t. No excuse is good enough.
- Also well known: protect them from sunburns to prevent skin cancer. Use at least SPF15 & reapply through the day. Seek shade during peak hours. Stick a hat on their head that shades their face, & a pair of sunglasses on their nose.
- Feed them a healthy diet with lots of fiber, fruits & vegetables. Avoid processed meats & an overabundance of red meat & salt. A healthy diet helps your body remove harmful chemicals, prevent & repair damage to DNA, & block the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. A less healthy diet has been linked to breast, mouth, esophagus & GI cancers.
- Encourage exercise. Exercise stabilizes levels of hormones like estrogen & insulin that have been linked to cancer. An active lifestyle decreases the incidence of breast, bowel, & uterine cancers.
- Keep them at healthy body weight. Fatty tissue produces hormones that influence the way cells to grow. Cell overgrowth is at the root of cancers. Obesity has been linked to breast cancer, esophageal & bowel cancers, & liver, kidney, pancreas & uterine cancers.
- Limit their exposure to chemicals. Indoor pesticides have recently been shown to increase children’s risk of leukemia by 47%. Be aware of the chemicals you might be exposed to at your job, wear appropriate safety gear, & don’t bring poisons home on your clothes–cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, benzene, & asbestos are still used in industry. Check the use instructions (do they need to be used in a well-ventilated area?) & ingredients in the products you do use at home. In the “be a excellent example” category: limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases the amount of cancer-causing chemicals in your body, & affects hormone levels. It also amplifies the toxic effects of tobacco. Drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast, mouth, throat & bowel cancers.
Cancer risk factors seem to hit the hardest when a baby is still in the womb, & in adolescence when their bodies are rapidly growing & changing, so these are the times when a parent can absolutely have an effect in preventing the cancer.
A perfect & healthy lifestyle stacks the deck in your child’s favor, dramatically decreasing their odds of getting cancer. Protect them from cancer-causing sunburns & poisons, get those vaccines, establish good habits, & be a good example. There is no downside to a healthy diet, regular exercise, & limiting their exposure to toxins, & it may increase their chances of hanging around for a while.