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Biology, Sport, Sustainability

Learning more about kids cancers

I’ve been on my bike ticking off kilometers for the Great Cycling Challenge alot this month. This challenge in Canada raises money for the Sick Kids Foundation to fight kids cancer. I realized on one of these rides that I don’t actually know much about kids cancers. So I thought I would do some research and I started with leukemia because it is one of the ones that I know can affect kids.

There are four types of leukemia depending on whether they are acute (developing in days or weeks) or chronic (developing over months or years) and based on the type of blood stem cell that they developed from. There are two types of blood stem cell (stem cells are a generalized cell that will develop into different types of cells with different jobs). Lymphoid stem cells develop into types of white blood cells that fight infections and destroy abnormal cells. Myeloid cells develop into three different types of cells: red blood cells, which carry oxygen; a couple other types of white blood cells, which also fight infections; and platelets, which form clots to stop bleeding.

In normal development, the blood stem cells become blast cells and then develop into the mature cell types listed above. But, in leukemia the blast cells are abnormal and don’t mature. They do, however, take up space, crowding out the mature cells so that they can’t do their jobs anymore (Canadian Cancer Society, n.d.).

In kids and teens, leukemias account for almost one out of three cancers, making it the most common type of cancer for kids. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common and acute myeloid leukemia are the rest. The two chronic types are rare in kids (American Cancer Society, n.d.).

While we hear a lot about risk factors for cancer, most lifestyle risk factors take time to accumulate the negative impacts that result in cancers. In kids, there aren’t many lifestyle risk factors for leukemia. What that means is that they are largely a result of genetics. The environmental risk factors that are strongly linked are radiation exposure, previous chemotherapy treatments, and suppressing the immune system such as might happen during an organ transplant. But these aren’t necessary for leukemia to develop. While a number of other factors have been studied, no other ones have appeared strongly linked (American Cancer Society, n.d.).

Given the quick development of these childhood cancers, the treatment tends to progress quickly as well and generally includes chemotherapy as well as potential other treatments.

Kids who are diagnosed with leukemia and their families and friends who support them, have a battle ahead of them against the cancer and against all the negatives that come from the disease, the treatments, and other factors. They inspire me as I ride for my fundraiser this month. What’s a little tiredness on the bike if it could help raise the funds to develop cures and better treatments for these cancers? As a result, I’ve upped my commitment and will be biking 500 km this month to raise money. If you would like to contribute to finding these treatments and cures you can donate through my fundraising page.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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