What Causes Childhood Leukemia?

As with many types of cancer, scientists do not know exactly what causes childhood leukemia. Most leukemias develop from changes, or mutations, in the genes of early-stage or “immature” blood cells. While it may not be known what causes these mutations, certain groups of children have been shown to be at higher risk of developing the disease. Leukemia is not contagious, and does not usually run in families.

Children at Risk of Developing Leukemia Include:

  • Those who have an identical twin with the disease
  • Those with a sibling that has leukemia (they have 2-4 times the risk over the regular population of developing the disease)
  • Those who have received chemotherapy or radiation therapy for another type of cancer, especially in the first few years following treatment
  • Children with particular genetic disorders, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down Syndrome, Kleinfelter syndrome, Fanconi’s anemia,
  • Bloom syndrome, Kostmann syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and ataxia telangectasia
  • Children receiving certain immune-suppressing drugs after receiving an organ transplant

While statistics may show these groups of children to be at higher risk of developing leukemia, it is important to know that not all kids with these risks will get the disease, and many who do will not have any risk factors at all. If your child has any of the above-mentioned conditions, and you are worried they might develop leukemia, speak with your doctor about routine checkups to monitor their health.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics for childhood leukemia? http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/LeukemiainChildren/DetailedGuide/childhood-leukemia-key-statistics Accessed September 22, 2010.

McKenna, S. (2003).”Diagnosis and Treatment of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia” in Wiernik, P., Goldman, J., Dutcher, J., and Kyle, R. (eds) Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood- 4th Ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

Rostad, M., Moore, K. (1997). “Childhood Cancers” in Varricchio, C. (ed) A Cancer Source Book for Nurses. Jones and Bartlett: Sudbury, MA.

Weinstein, H. (2003) “Diagnosis and Management of Childhood Acute Myelogenous Leukemia” in Wiernik, P., Goldman, J., Dutcher, J., and Kyle, R. (eds) Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood- 4th Ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

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