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. Most children with cancer have 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 neuroblastoma. However, there are some things that are linked to a higher chance of getting neuroblastoma.

Family history

In rare cases, neuroblastoma runs in families. This affects around 1% to 2% of children with neuroblastoma. When this happens, the cancer usually grows at a younger age than in children with no family history of the disease. In these rare cases, the cancer often affects multiple parts of the body.

Genetic conditions

A few children have genetic or inherited risk factors that increase their chance of getting cancer during childhood. Research links neuroblastoma that runs in families with faulty ALK or PHOX2B genes.

Certain genetic conditions can increase a child's risk of getting neuroblastoma. These include:

  • Hirschsprung disease
  • congenital central hypoventilation syndrome
  • neurofibromatosis type 1.

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 that have links to genetic conditions may also affect other family members’ risk. 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.