Plus: 25 Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Cancer in Children
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society published its yearly report, “Cancer Facts & Figures.” For the first time, the report included a special section on statistics about the prevalence of childhood and adolescent cancers. The separate section may be indicative of the fact that cases of childhood cancer continue to rise in the United States, despite much progress. According to the report, approximately 15,780 new cases of childhood cancer will be diagnosed in 2014, and 1,960 patients 19 and younger will die from this disease.
Current cancer rates among youths are 19 cases per 100,000 children. About one in 530 young adults aged 20 to 39 is a childhood cancer survivor.
The report stated that advances in surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy have improved survival rates among childhood cancer patients. However, many survivors are at high risk for serious long-term health problems. For example, children who survive brain tumors may develop seizures, hearing loss, blindness, weakness in their limbs, and decreased mental capacity.
In addition, while treatment and survival rates have improved steadily for some childhood cancers, others are still incurable and untreatable. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among children 5 to 14, second only to automobile and other types of accidents.
Although adult cancer is much more common than childhood cancer, cancers in children are often harder for parents to spot, as their symptoms often mimic those of common childhood illnesses. Further, the causes of adult cancers are much better understood than those of childhood cancers, which in many cases are still a mystery. Leukemias (blood cell cancers), and cancers of the brain and central nervous system make up more than half of all new childhood cancer cases.
Researchers continue working to develop better, safer childhood cancer diagnostics and cures, and attempting to gain a better understanding of what factors cause children to develop cancer. Studies continue examining possible risk factors, including: exposure to infectious agents early in life (bacteria, viruses, etc.); exposure of parents or children to environmental pollution, including pesticides, and industrial and household chemicals; exposure to radiation; and maternal exposure to oral contraceptives and fertility drugs.
25 Steps You Can Take to Limit Your Family’s Exposure to Known and Probable Carcinogens
While medical researchers labor to uncover more definitive answers in the fight against childhood cancers, there are important steps that you as a parent can take, many of which can be started immediately. You are your child’s number-one role model, and if you adopt and promote healthy lifestyle habits in your home, you will be going a long way in promoting good health for your entire family.
These are some of the things that you can do to help ensure and enhance good health in your children:
- Limit your family’s exposure to chlorinated solvents, which have been strongly associated with childhood leukemia in studies. Chlorinated solvents are found in paint strippers, auto finishes, some house paints, glues, and all-purpose household cleansers. When using chemical products such as these indoors, insure that there is plenty of ventilation (windows or garage door open, etc.). Also, ask sales people for more natural alternatives when shopping.
- Use non-chlorine bleach in your laundry, as opposed to chlorinated bleach. Or use laundry boosters that have no bleach at all, such as baking soda or diatomaceous earth (name brand for the latter: 20 Mule Team Borax), both of which are natural sanitizers and deodorizers.
- Most cities and counties in the U.S. add chlorine to their tap water to kill organisms in the water. Invest in a good water filter for your home, which can remove chlorine and other chemicals, and heavy metals, from your household water. Bottled water is another option, though filtering your water is better for the planet (bottled water has to be transported from its source).
- Take shorter, cooler showers, to lessen exposure to chlorine in water. (The hotter the water is, the more chloroform vapors will form as water comes out; chloroform is toxic and should be avoided as much as possible.)
- Use more eco-friendly cleansers to clean and disinfect around the home, like hydrogen peroxide, non-chlorinated bleach and water, all-natural essential oils and water, white vinegar and water, baking soda and water.
- Avoid clothes that require dry-cleaning, as this process uses chlorinated chemicals. If you do dry-clean some garments, air them out before storing in plastic bags.
- Use herbal sachets or cedar to protect clothing from moths. Do not use mothballs or moth crystals, as these are usually made of para-dichlorobenzene, a toxic chlorinated chemical.
- Avoid air fresheners made of para-dichlorobenzene, or the kind you spray, which have an assortment of chemicals and propellants. Use natural fresheners instead, when a freshener is used at all. With regular cleaning and plenty of ventilation, bad odors will leave your home.
- Avoid cigarette-smoking. The dangers of secondhand smoke to children and to others are well-established.
- Use natural medicines for your children whenever possible. For example, the chemical lindane, used to treat head lice, has been linked in studies to childhood brain cancers. For lice (as well as many other conditions, and even for household insects), essential oils such as tea tree or eucalyptus work well. These powerful oils should be diluted in a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, for topical applications. For eczema, instead of using ointments with steroid hormones, dilute a few drops of essential oil in a spoonful of carrier oil and massage on affected areas. For asthma, instead of relying exclusively on chemical inhalers to treat it, have your child inhale essential oil (such as eucalyptus radiata, peppermint or lemon oil) mixed with a carrier oil; this naturally opens up and soothes the airways. By doing this, some asthma sufferers have been able to cut down on their use of steroid inhalers, and even do away with inhalers altogether. But please consult with your doctor before using essential oils on your child; also, conduct a simple allergy test first by having child inhale essential oil when they are not having an asthma attack, to insure oil is well-tolerated. (To kill and repel roaches and mosquitoes in the home, dilute a teaspoonful of essential oil in a quart of water in a spray bottle, and spray on places where you’ve seen the critters. Diluted oils are non-toxic and do not damage fabrics.)
- Wash produce in solution of 1 spoonful of vinegar per quart of water, to help eliminate pesticide residues and dirt.
- Buy locally grown organic fruits and vegetables when possible.
- Buy organic dairy products.
- Grow your own chemical-free produce in your backyard! This reduces your cost for these to almost nothing, and as a great side benefit, when your children see how produce grows from the earth, they might find eating fruits and veggies a lot more exciting!
- Avoid processed foods and chemical preservatives in your diet, opting instead for whole, natural foods.
- Insure that your child eats a well-balanced diet: plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and low on sweets and salty snacks. Do not allow your children to drink sodas or artificial “fruit-flavored” drinks. Mixing a few ounces of natural fruit juice with carbonated water makes the drink taste a lot like a soda, without the harsh chemicals and excess sugar.
- Instill in your child the habit of drinking water throughout the day. A certain level of exposure to pollutants is of course unavoidable in our modern world; drinking plenty of water daily helps to regulate the body’s metabolic processes and pushes out impurities.
- Ask your doctor if a certain X-ray or CAT-scan for your child is truly necessary.
- Refrain from using chemical pesticides or herbicides on your lawn, as they increase your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Look for natural alternatives online or at your local home-improvement store.
- Let your kids get a little Sun everyday, but they shouldn’t overdo it. A little Sun boosts levels of vitamin D, an important vitamin that serves a multitude of functions, including helping to regulate the immune system. However, too much Sun exposure increases the risk for skin cancers. So, if your child will be in the Sun longer than 15 minutes, have them wear protective clothing, or put on a natural sunscreen. (Beware of using chemical sunscreens, as these have been linked to cancer, as well. Opt for zinc oxide-based sunscreens, or look for natural homemade sunscreen recipes online.)
- Avoid living near freeways or busy streets, which will greatly increase your family’s exposure to pollutants. Living near power poles and power lines is suspected to increase risk of childhood leukemia.
- Limit your use of cellular phones, and avoid cordless phones in the home. Both these types of phones increase your family’s exposure to electromagnetic radiation, linked in previous studies to brain tumors. If you truly think your child needs a cell phone of their own, advise them to use it only in emergencies. Likewise, use of computers, tablets, video game boards and the like by children should be limited; their bones and brains are still developing and are that much more susceptible to radiation dangers. Heavy use of these modern gadgets also causes children to be more sedentary, which has been proven beyond doubt is bad for one’s health.
- Encourage your children to exercise regularly; daily exercise is one of the best ways to combat many diseases, including cancer.
- Use antibiotics on your children only when absolutely necessary, as these kill the beneficial bacteria that are the first line of defense in your child’s immune system.
- Avoid vaccines that use mercury as a preservative, if at all possible. The jury is still out on whether or not mercury in vaccines is harmful to children, but many medical experts believe that it is. It’s better to err on the side of caution.
By Lisa Pecos