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Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and multiply (through a process called cell division) to form new cells as the body needs them.

When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Some cancers, particularly in adults, have been  associated with repetitive exposures or risk factors. A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. A risk factor does not necessarily cause the disease, but it may make the body less resistant to it. The following risk factors and mechanisms have been proposed as contributing to cancer:

Exposures to certain viruses. Epstein-Barr virus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have been linked to an increased risk of developing certain childhood cancers, such as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Possibly, the virus alters a cell in some way. That cell then reproduces an altered cell and, eventually, these alterations become a cancer cell that reproduces more cancer.

Environmental exposures. Pesticides, fertilizers, and power lines have been researched for a direct link to childhood cancers. There has been evidence of cancer occurring among nonrelated children in certain neighborhoods and/or cities. Whether prenatal or infant exposure to these agents causes cancer, or whether it is a coincidence, is unknown.

Some forms of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, children who have been exposed to these agents may develop a second malignancy later in life. These strong anticancer agents can alter cells and/or the immune system. A second malignancy is a cancer that appears as a result from treatment of a different cancer.

Some genetic disorders. For example, Wiskott-Aldrich and Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome are known to alter the immune system. The immune system is a complex system that functions to protect our bodies from infection and disease.

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