When your child is diagnosed with cancer it is devastating – but it’s not your fault. As a parent, you immediately start asking questions about how this happened. Is it my genetic make-up? Did I not follow good nutrition when pregnant or after my baby was born? What could I have done to prevent this? It is not your fault.

Research out of Johns Hopkins University has now shown that about two-thirds of the genetic mutations that lead to cancer are from random errors while cells are dividing.  According to Dr. Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, most childhood cancer is caused by random mutations. Dr. Vogelstein wants parents to “understand that these cancers would have occurred no matter what they did. We don’t need to add guilt to an already tragic situation.”

More important, it means everyone needs to be screened for cancer when possible even if they think they’re at low risk because of family history and their own healthy habits, Vogelstein said, because their findings mean everyone’s at risk of cancer, the No. 2 killer in the United States.

Where the Fault Lies

Dr. Vogelstein and his colleague’s research assumes there are three basic causes of cancer:

  • Inherited genetic mutations, which account for about 5 percent of all cancer cases.
  • Mutations caused by the environment – smoking, diet, exercise, sun exposure, and also factors outside a person’s control.
  • Mutations that occur because cells divide. Each cell division requires the genetic code to be copied and mistakes can occur randomly.

“Every time a cell divides it makes mistakes. Most of the time these mutations don’t do any harm,” Vogelstein said. “Occasionally, they occur in a cancer driver gene. That’s bad luck.” Any type of cancer can be caused by any of these causes. But for cancer to develop and progress cells need to have more than one mutation.

So which cancer types are mostly random? Brain tumors and almost all pediatric cancers. While this may be of little comfort to the parents of children fighting cancer, it may lessen the guilt.

Barco’s Nightingales Foundation continues to support programs for children fighting pediatric cancer and their families, like Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. You can help us send children to camp by donating to our Foundation. If 20 people donated $75.00, one more child would experience as close to normal a life as possible.

Thank you,

~Michael and Frida Donner