Childhood Cancer: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that may increase the chance of developing cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do.

Doctors and researchers don’t know what causes most childhood cancers. A small percentage of cancers can be linked to the genetic disorder Down syndrome, other inherited genetic abnormalities, and previous radiation treatment. Environmental causes, such as exposure to infectious and toxic substances, are unlikely to cause childhood cancer.

To help doctors learn more about risk factors, the Children's Oncology Group (COG) coordinates a large childhood cancer registry. (Please note this link takes you to a separate website.) Once registered with the network, patients and families may be asked if doctors and researchers can contact them in the future to collect information for studies on genetic and environmental factors that may be connected to the development of childhood cancers; research continues in this area.

Because specific causes have not been found for each individual type of childhood cancer, the way to prevent childhood cancer is still unknown.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems childhood cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.