In the book “Raising Children Toxic Free” there is an excellent chapter about cancer in childhood, and the environmental risks that can cause it.
Read our review of the book below.
“Childhood cancer”: few phrases evoke a greater level of concern and apprehension in a parent. Parents are understandably frustrated when scientists do not and cannot provide rapid, unequivocal answers to what seem to be the simplest questions. Are there toxins in my water? Is there something in the air or soil in my neighborhood that will affect my family? Another child in my child’s school has cancer; will my child get cancer? There seems to be a lot of cancer in my neighborhood; should I move?
In this chapter, we hope to give you some perspectives on what childhood cancer is, how prevalent it is, what causes it (or, more correctly, what causes the many diseases we call “cancer”) , what science can tell us about environmental cancer ( and what it still doesn’t know), and what you as parents can do to assess and minimize the chance that your child will develop cancer.
First, a word about risk perception; psychologists tell us that people are more willing to accept risks over which they have direct and personal control (such as smoking, eating or drinking to excess, and driving too fast). But most people are not at all willing to accept risks that are “invisible” or beyond their control such as dangers from radioactive materials; X rays, electromagnetic radiation (EMF), and toxins in their water, air, or food. This seems to hold true, even if the risks that people voluntarily choose are many times greater than those over which they have no control.
One of the most important steps in cancer prevention is to keep your children from smoking. (see Chapter 9 for a full discussion of tobacco and its hazards.)
Radiation was shown to cause cancer among children who were exposed to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. leukemia was seen in these children as early as two to three years many other organs, including brain, breast , and lung cancer, was observed. Radiation-induced leukemia and other radiation cancers have been seen in children who were exposed to high doses of X rays for the treatment of ringworm of the scalp. thyroid cancer has occurred in children given X rays for the treatment of an enlarged thymus gland. Radon causes lung cancer. Radiation therapy of childhood cancer has proven to be a two-edged sword. While radiation therapy can cure a child’s initial cancer, it can itself cause later, so called secondary cancers. thus, bone cancers and cancers of the skin and breast have been seen as a secondary cancers in children given radiation therapy for treatment of cancers earlier in their lives. In light of this new knowledge, radiation therapy is administered much more carefully today than in the past. (See chapter 8)
Asbestos has been shown to cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma in the children of asbestos workers. These children were exposed to asbestos-contaminated dust that was brought home from work on their father’s shoes and clothing. Asbestos in homes, schools, and other buildings is also a hazard for children. Some researchers have estimated that at least 1,000 cases of cancer, principally lung cancer and malignant mesotheliomam will develop over the next thirty years among children who are exposed to asbestos in schools today. (See Chapter 6.)
Pesticides in food and drink pose a risk of cancer to children. Permissible levels of pesticides in foods, termed pesticide residue levels, are established by the Environmental protection Agency. These permissible levels are based on the adult diet. These legally permissible levels fo not at present recognize the fact that children’s diets are very different from those of adults. The national Academy of Sciences has recently issued a report concluding that American children are overexposed to pesticide residues in the diest (See page 114)
The pesticide DDt may pose a particular hazard to children. Preliminary results from recently conducted medical studies.
The level of concern and anger expressed over a risk is often related to the level of control people have over it.
For many people, “childhood cancer” and “cancer clusters” seem to fall into the category of “things over which they have little control.” It is easy to see why parents express alarm, anger and agitation to their pediatrician and to public health officials when a child develops cancer or when a “cancer cluster” is perceived in their environment. With the tools and information contained in this chapter, we hope to give you as parents some control over theses things. We hope to help you develop a realistic assessment of the cancer risk and to bring your level of concern to an appropriate intensity. Then we hope to give you some practical guidance about what to do.
Unfortunately, cancer is not a rare disease among children. Each year in the United States, approximately 6,500 new cases of cancer are diagnosed among children under the age of 15. Cancer rates are slightly higher in Caucasian than in African-American children and somewhat higher in boys than in girls. Cancer is second only to trauma as a cause of death for American children beyond the newborn age group.
The good news is that over the past twenty years there has been a most impressive decline in the death rate from childhood cancer. Remarkable advances in cancer treatment have resulted in substantial reductions in the death rate for several forms of childhood cancer.
There are two extremely important facts that you need to know about cancer:
- A substantial fraction of cancers may ultimately be preventable. Scientists estimate that only 10 to 20 percent of cancer is due to a person’s genetic inheritance. The rest is due to our environment-Including what we eat, breathe, drink, smoke, or are exposed to during the course of our lives. Because many cancers are caused by exposure to toxic factors in the environment, these cancers can be avoided by preventing children’s exposure to environmental toxins.
- Childhood cancer, although always a terrifying disease. highly treatable. Children can be cured. Today more than 60 percent of children who develop cancer can be expected to survive their illness. Major advances have made in the treatment of.
Cancer was perceived as an occasional dark visitor in childhood or as a consequence of aging. That view is no longer accurate. Cancer is neither inevitable nor unpreventable. We now know the causes of a substantial fraction of cases of cancer., and because we know some of the causes of cancer, we are beginning to prevent and to cure the disease.
In the broadest terms there are two types of causes of cancer-genetic causes and environmental causes.
Genetic causes are predispositions that we inherit from our parents. They include certain syndromes that predispose memberbs of some families to cancer. For example, there are inherited syndromes that predispose to skin cancer and to cancer of the colon. Some families have a predisposition to cancer at many different sires within the body because of an inherited fragility of their chromosomes that leads to frequent mutations. For example, families with the Fraumeni-Li syndrome have a genetic rearrangement of their chromosomes associated with an increased frequency of many tumors. Screening tests are being developed that make is possible to identify individuals and families at high risk of cancer and to take appropriate preventive action
Environmental factors are a major cause of human cancer. Chemical and physical factors in the environment that can cause cancer are termed environmental carcinogens. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of all human cancer is thought by medical scientists to be cause by exposure to carcinogens encountered in the environment. In this definition, the term “environment” is used broadly. It includes not only air pollutants, chemical toxins, asbestos and other obvious environmental hazards but also carcinogens in the diet, toxic agents in drinking water, drugs, alcohol and cigarette smoke. Another way to express this concept is to say that only 10 to 20 percent of cancer is in inevitable consequence of a person’s inheritance.
because a very high proportion of human cancer is caused by environmental carcinogens, it should be possible to prevent many cases of cancer by avoiding toxic environmental exposures.