Rising Cancer Rates in Children and Potential Causes

January 10, 2017
Rising Cancer Rates in Children

Childhood cancer accounts for only 1 percent of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States. Unfortunately, this number has been rising of late, even as adult cancer rates have declined.
Troubling Statistics
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there has been a substantial increase in childhood cancers over the past few decades. In fact, the overall rate has increased 27 percent since 1975 in kids under the age of 19. Interestingly, during this same period overall adult cancer rates have fallen, leading many experts to question the reason for the discrepancy.
Which Types of Cancer Are Most Common?
While the overall rate of childhood cancer has risen, much of the increase appears to be driven by an increase in leukemia, which has jumped almost 35 percent since 1975. While leukemia is the most common cancer in children, it isn't the only type to see an increase. Soft tissue cancers which develop in the muscles and bones have risen nearly 42 percent, while Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is up 34 percent.
What Is the Cause?
According to experts, increased childhood cancer rates likely stem from environmental factors. Over the past four decades, the environment has changed significantly, with more and more chemicals entering the air and water. Combined with genetic traits, this appears to have spurred a sharp increase in a variety of childhood cancers, even while adult cancer rates continue to decline.
Cause for Concern?
While increased cancer rates are apt to stir concern among parents, some experts believe the statistics could be misleading. Thanks to enhanced technology, doctors are better able to detect cancer, and some believe these enhanced tests are partly responsible for increased positive diagnoses. At the same time, the 5-year survival rates for childhood cancer have improved considerably over the years, and are now at over 80 percent.
Still, researchers are calling for increased funding to help identify the exact reasons for increased cancer rates in children. They also recommend that parents do their best to limit their kids' exposure to pesticides, cigarette smoke and other known environmental toxins, which could increase a child's cancer risk.

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