Risk factors

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A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a certain condition or disease. Researchers know about some risk factors that increase the chance of developing cancer. However, for most children with cancer, the cause is unknown.

What we do know is that if a child develops cancer, it’s not because of something they, or their parents did to cause it. No one is to blame if a child develops cancer.

Even if your child has a risk factor, it doesn’t mean they will develop cancer. Many children with a risk factor will never develop cancer, while others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a child with a risk factor develops cancer, the risk factor may not have had much to do with it.

Researchers don’t completely understand what causes melanoma in children. However, some things are linked to a higher chance of getting melanoma.

Exposure to UV light

The main risk factor for melanoma is exposure to UV (ultraviolet) light over a long time. This can be natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (like tanning beds). The risk is higher if your child has:

  • fair skin that burns easily
  • blue or green eyes
  • red or blonde hair
  • moles on their skin, especially if some are unusual
  • a history of blistering sunburns.

Family history

If other members of the family have unusual moles or have had melanoma, this may increase the chance that your child could develop melanoma.

Genetic conditions

Research links certain genetic conditions with a higher chance of getting melanoma. These include:

  • giant melanocytic nevi
  • xeroderma pigmentosum
  • some immune system disorders
  • Werner syndrome
  • retinoblastoma.

If your child has one of these genetic conditions, they will need specific care. Your health care team will talk to you about which ongoing tests your child will need.

Childhood cancers with links to genetic conditions may also affect the risk for other family members. You can ask your child’s treatment team if you or your family should get genetic counselling.

To learn more about genetic conditions, see the children’s cancer glossary or the Centre for Genetics Education.