Childhood Cancer 101

Knowing more about childhood cancer and its potential causes can help us better protect our children. Learn the facts today and help us spread life-saving knowledge.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for children aged 1-14 in the UK. Fortunately, our survival rates are high, with more than 8 out of 10 children surviving their disease for five years after diagnosis. After the five-year mark, most children are considered to be in the clear. But children who survive cancer can often continue to live with serious health problems throughout their lives. In most cases, these are caused by the intensive treatment they had to undergo in order to beat cancer. This is why prevention is the best cure when it comes to childhood cancer.

Raising awareness of childhood cancer is vital to beating it. Better awareness can enable an early diagnosis, drastically improving a child’s chances of survival. Better awareness can also mean children and their families receive informed support from those closest to them.

Did you know?

  • The types of cancer that affect children are very different from those that affect adults.
  • There are 76 types of childhood cancer. The most common ones are leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphoma.
  • An estimated 250 children, between the ages of 0-14, die of cancer in the UK every year. It is currently the most common cause of death in children of these ages.
  • Malignant brain tumours are the most common cause of childhood cancer deaths in the UK.
  • Childhood cancer affects boys more than girls. 56% of cancer cases in the UK occur in boys compared to 46% of girls affected. Boys are also twice as likely to develop lymphomas.

The Causes

The causes of childhood cancer are still unknown, particularly since it is so different from cancers which affects adults. Adult cancers develop when gene mutations cause cells to become cancerous over time. But this kind of genetic damage often requires years to happen. Whereas children have not been around long enough to acquire them. A great deal of research currently being carried out on childhood cancer, focuses on there being possible links between genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic Factors
There are two ways a child can have a genetic predisposition to develop cancer. The first way is if the child inherits a faulty gene from his/her parent. The second way is if the child acquires the genetic mutation while still in the womb. Some possible causes of this can be carcinogenic medication/drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy or exposure to pollutants. There’s more on this below.

Environmental Factors
There are many types of pollutants and chemicals, which we are easily exposed to in our day-to-day lives, that are carcinogenic. These include:

  • Air pollution –such as benzene
  • Pesticides
  • Parental Smoking
  • Medication and drugs
  • Endocrine Disruptive chemicals (EDCs)

Research suggests that exposure to even indoor pesticides resulted in a significant increase in the risk of childhood leukaemia. As for medication –there is mounting evidence for the carcinogenic effects of certain drugs taken by mothers during pregnancy. Diethylstilboestrol (DES) –now discontinued- used to be a hormone given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage. Now it is firmly established that DES is a transplacental carcinogene.

Some chemotherapy medication used to treat cancer are also known to carry the risk of causing secondary cancers. A major aim of ongoing cancer research is to develop drugs which are less toxic.

Ways to Protect Your Children

You can protect your children against cancer and other diseases by making positive lifestyle changes. Living clean, living healthy and becoming more aware of what we consume are things we should all be striving to do as Muslims. Here are some steps you can take towards a healthier and cleaner lifestyle for your family.

Limit their exposure to harmful chemicals
Many synthetic chemicals have been linked to health problems, including pollutants, pesticides and carcinogenic drugs. But the most obvious suspects are often the hardest to spot! Watch out for Endocrine Disruptive chemicals (EDCs) found in everyday household products.

EDCs disrupt the delicate balance of our endocrine system, mimicking our hormones to impair our bodies’ natural hormone function. They hinder development, reproductive function and are toxic to the immune system and brain. Children and unborn babies are at greater risk of EDCs because our bodies are most vulnerable to EDCs during stages of accelerated development and growth.

EDCs are present in a wide range of household products including:

  • Plastics
  • Cosmetics
  • Fragrances
  • Food
  • Kitchen cleaners
  • Adhesives
  • Paints
  • Medical equipment
  • Toys

To find out more about EDCs and ways to protect your family from them, watch our information video Here.

Protect them from tobacco smoke
The evidence for a link between parental smoking and childhood cancer is mixed. Research suggests that smoking during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk in brain and nervous system cancers. But there is a stronger case for children exposed to the second hand smoke of their parents. Studies show that parents who smoke in the home may be increasing the risk of leukaemia in their children. This is enough reason to quit smoking and enforce strict ground rules for stubborn smokers in your household!

Ensure they have a healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy diet is key to a healthy lifestyle. Be wary of foods with lots of additives and be strict about junk food! Childhood obesity is just one of the results of allowing kids to regularly consume foods high in sugar, salt and fat. And with 1 in 3 Year-6 children being obese in the UK, we all have our work cut out for us!

Provide your family with a diet rich in antioxidants such selenium, beta carotene and vitamins C and E. These can protect against oxidants which lead to cell damage. Ideally these vitamins and minerals should occur naturally in the food you eat.

Also watch out for pesticides, which are linked to hormone disruption. Unfortunately, pesticides are part and parcel of industrial farming, leaving residues in our food and showing up in water through field run-off. To avoid them, eating Organic is the best option. If your budget is too tight, try to buy foods that are grown conventionally, with the least amount of processing. Opt for whole fruit & veg instead of pre-sliced/washed, and avoid packaging where possible. The same applies to meat: a whole fish or chicken is better than nuggets and fish fingers.

Encourage them to exercise
Exercise helps maintain healthy hormone levels, decreases inflammation, improves immune function and contributes to higher levels of natural antioxidants. It also reduces other factors that can contribute to the growth of cancer such as insulin.

Get your children off those phones and tablets and get them outdoors! Just 60 mins a day at your local park will make all the difference. If that’s difficult, then get them performing physical activities in the garden or even indoors. Physically fit kids sleep better and can handle physical and emotional challenges better as well.

Keeping your children physically active is also a surefire way to prevent childhood obesity. Obesity on children is a growing problem in the UK, where one in 5 children are overweight or obese. Children who are obese are more likely to grow into adults who are obese. And obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer.

Breastfeed your babies
Did you know that just as breastfeeding can protect mothers from later developing breast cancer, it can also protect babies? Breast milk contains vital elements that supports and strengthens a baby’s immune system. A substantial body of evidence suggests that breastfeeding can have a protective effect in the prevention of childhood leukaemia. Research shows that children who’ve been breastfed for 6 months or longer had a 19% lower risk of developing childhood leukaemia than children breastfed for a shorter time or not at all.


We hope this information was helpful. If you’d like to do something for childhood cancer, you can start by spreading the word. Share this blog with those close to you. You can also donate or raise funds to support the treatment of a child.

To find out more about childhood cancer in the UK, you can download the Public Health England report on Cancer Statistics by clicking Here.

Did you know that in Pakistan, 8,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year? That’s double the amount in the UK. What’s more, the survival rate for children with cancer in Pakistan are considerably lower. This is often due to poverty.

Click Here to find out how a full or even partial patient sponsorship can make all the difference in giving a child with cancer a fair chance at survival


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