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Causes of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Certain risk factors have been linked to the development of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. These risk factors include a family history of the condition, being exposed to radiation, and certain genetic disorder. Although research has led to advances, researchers hope one day to be able to fully understand childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia and its causes.

What Causes Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) accounts for about 3,800 new cases of leukemia each year. ALL is the most common type of leukemia in young children, representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15 years of age. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia occurs in about 1 out of every 29,000 children in the United States each year. This condition is also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Risk Factors for Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

No one knows the exact causes of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and doctors can seldom explain why one person will get ALL and another person will not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.
Risk factors for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia include:
  • Having a brother or sister with leukemia
  • Being Caucasian or Hispanic
  • Living in the United States
  • Being exposed to x-rays before birth
  • Being exposed to radiation
  • Past treatment with chemotherapy or with other drugs that weaken the immune system
  • Having certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome.
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