Updated: 01/28/2013 7:31 PM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier
Each year, about 170 Minnesota children are diagnosed with cancer, and 11,000 across the United States. Now, a troubling finding shows those numbers might be climbing.
"Enjoy each moment because that's all we're given," said Mindy Dykes, whose son, Connor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was just six weeks old.
"I do remember hearing repeatedly in my head during those first 24 hours, 'My son has cancer. My son has cancer,'" Dykes said.
A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency finds more and more parents are hearing those same, terrible words.
The report, "America's Children and the Environment," found that between 1992 and 1994, there were 153 to 161 cases of cancer per one million children. 15 years later, that rate had risen to 172 to 175 cases per million children, a rise that researchers deemed significant.
"It's sad. It's alarming," Dykes said.
"It's great to be able to cure it. It's fantastic to prevent it in the first place," said Dr. Timothy R. Church, a professor and cancer prevention specialist at the University of Minnesota,
Church helped analyze that EPA report -- one of a few dozen experts involved in the review process.
It examined several potential factors, including air pollutants, pesticides, car exhaust, tobacco smoke, and UV radiation. There was evidence that each could contribute to childhood cancer, but none proved conclusive.
"We just don't know what's causing cancer in children. We have some ideas, but we can only explain about 10 percent of all the cancers through the causes that we know about," Church said.
As for little Connor, he's no longer little. Now 6 years old, he has conquered cancer. But his mother said the search for a cause is just as important as the search for a cure.
"It takes a lot of evidence and a lot of research, but it's a mountain that needs to be tackled," Dykes said.
Connor's experience also drove Dykes into the field of cancer awareness and fundraising. She is now the community outreach coordinator for the Children's Cancer Research Fund.
The best cancer prevention advice experts can give right now is for parents and children to live the healthiest lives they can, especially while a child is in the womb and during their first year of life.
That EPA report is not all bad news. Even though the number of children developing cancer is increasing, the number of children surviving cancer is also increasing, as treatment methods become more and more effective.