Can Childhood Cancers Be Prevented?

Unlike many cancers of adults, lifestyle-related risk factors (such as smoking) don't play much of a role in a child’s risk of getting cancer. A few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with an increased risk of some childhood cancers. But in some cases exposure to radiation might be unavoidable, such as if the child needs radiation therapy to treat another cancer.

If your child does develop cancer, it's important to know that it's extremely unlikely there is anything you or your child could have done to prevent it.

Very rarely, a child might inherit gene changes that make them very likely to get a certain kind of cancer. In such cases, doctors may sometimes recommend preventive surgery to remove an organ before cancer has a chance to develop there. But again, this is very rare.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Aplan PD, Shern JF, Khan J. Chapter 3: Molecular and Genetic Basis of Childhood Cancer. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.

Dome JS, Rodriguez-Galindo C, Spunt SL, Santana, VM. Chapter 92: Pediatric Solid Tumors. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

National Cancer Institute. Cancer in Children and Adolescents. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/childhood-cancers/child-adolescent-cancers-fact-sheet on September 17, 2019.

Last Medical Review: October 14, 2019 Last Revised: October 14, 2019

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.