Can a Child Have Cancer?

Yes, a child can have cancer, but the likelihood of this is very low in the average child.Some types of blood cancer, a form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma,and cancer of the kidney called Wilms tumor rear their ugly heads mainly in childhood


But why do children have cancer?  

It is common knowledge that cancer is typically seen in older persons; for example cervical cancer commonly affects women over 35 and prostate cancer tends to affect men over, because it often takes years for cancer to develop. In children, however, this is not the case.

For instance, women who smoke, take certain medications, or are exposed to some environmental toxins during pregnancy increase the chances of their unborn children developing cancer. In addition, a family history of any of these childhood cancers also means that the unborn child may inherit the defective gene and may develop cancer in the future.  

  • Some childhood cancers are caused by defective genes that the child inherited. Therefore, a family history of such cancer means that a child born into that family may inherit the defective genes and have a greater risk of developing the cancer. 
  • Other cancers have been linked to exposure to cancer-causing agents early in life; women who smoke during pregnancy increase the chances of their children developing cancer.
  • Infections such as HIV and Epstein Barr virus can also cause cancer in children. 


What should a parent look out for?

The symptoms of cancer depend on which part of the body is affected. In the type of eye cancer that affects children, called retinoblastoma, the eye bulges out and, if untreated, may become as large as half of the face. In Wilm’s tumor, the child’s abdomen is protruded and painful while blood cancers present with easy and frequent bleeding and recurrent infections. 

Other non-specific symptoms that come with childhood cancers include weight loss, poor appetite, fever, weakness, and dizziness.


Can I prevent cancer in my child? 

Unlike adults in whom lifestyle changes and regular screening can prevent some forms of cancer, little can be done to prevent cancer in children.  Therefore, early diagnosis and proper treatment of childhood cancer is very important. If a child in your family has had cancer in the past, and you are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy, talk to your doctor to find out the risk that other children can have the same cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor.

Pregnant women should avoid things that can cause any form of harm to the unborn child such as smoking.

Take Home


Cancer can occur in a child but the risk is very low in the average child.  Since little can be done to prevent childhood cancer, early diagnosis and proper treatment is important. If a child has had cancer in your family and you are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy, make sure your doctor is aware. Pregnant women should avoid smoking.


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