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Causes and Risk Factors of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

No one knows the exact causes of this type of leukemia, and doctors can seldom explain why one person will get ALL and another person will not. However, leukemia 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 other drugs that weaken the immune system
  • Having certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome.

What Are the Symptoms?

Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of ALL symptoms.
Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia frequently have low amounts of healthy red blood cells and platelets. As a result, there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body (anemia). Anemia can cause patients to:
  • Look pale
  • Feel weak and tired
  • Bleed and bruise easily.
Other common symptoms of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin
  • Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Paleness or pallor
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiny red spots (called petechiae) under the skin
  • Bone or joint pain.
In childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the abnormal cells may collect in the brain or spinal cord, which is also called the central nervous system (CNS). This can result in headaches with or without vomiting. However, most children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia do not have these symptoms. Leukemia cells also can collect in the testicles and cause swelling.
These and other symptoms may be caused by childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia or by other conditions. Therefore, patients should see a doctor if they experience possible symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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