Widespread misunderstanding of causes of childhood cancer: Study

Doug Hendrie

10/01/2019 3:45:04 PM

Most people who have not been affected by childhood cancer mistakenly believe it is due to genetics or environment rather than simple bad luck.

The causes of childhood cancer are often misunderstood by the general public.
The causes of childhood cancer are often misunderstood by the general public.

The study by UNSW Medicine researchers found that more than 70% of survivors and their parents surveyed believe the disease was simple bad luck, while the general community had very different beliefs, with three quarters believing genetics play a major role and 65% believing environmental factors are a cause.
Lead author Dr Janine Vetsch said the study will help address common misconceptions of childhood cancer.
‘These sorts of views can lead to stigma, so it’s really important that we increase community knowledge of childhood cancer causes in general,’ she said. ‘[W]e also need to encourage doctors to talk about the causes with affected families to address unhelpful misconceptions.’
Dr Vetsch said many families initially wondered why the rare disease had affected them before healthcare professionals helped them understand genetics or environment were unlikely to have been the cause.
‘Many adult cancers are caused by lifestyle, genetics, ageing and the environment. In contrast, it is still mostly unclear what causes childhood cancer,’ she said.
‘Few childhood cancers are attributed to genetics or environmental factors. So when children are diagnosed with cancer, families often wonder ‘“why me? Or, why us”?
‘[Affected families] wonder whether there is anything they could have done differently during pregnancy or early childhood, and sometimes they even develop their own – non-evidence-based – beliefs, which can be unhelpful and may influence their coping.’
The study, ‘Why us?’ Causal attributions of childhood cancer survivors, survivors’ parents and community comparisons - a mixed methods analysis’ was based on a survey of more than 600 parents and survivors of childhood cancer, and 510 members of the wider population.

adolescence cancer childhood environment genetics

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