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Biology and Genetics
Environment and Occupational Issues
- Leukemia in Children

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common form of cancer that occurs in children.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common cancer occurring in children.  ALL is the cancer of the white blood cells (leukocytes). Leukemia leads to the production of large numbers of abnormal leukocytes which aggregate in the bone marrow, and flood the bloodstream. As a result, they are unable to perform their intended role in defending the body against infectious disease and foreign materials.  In Canada, approximately 320 children are diagnosed with leukemia every year. Of these, nearly three-quarters will be cured, while 30% of those treated will experience a relapse. Although the incidence of ALL  is higher in the developing world, the prognosis of the disease is more positive in developed countries due to treatment follow up.

Some of the more prominent risks in developing the disease include age, sex, ethnicity, exposure to ionic radiation, genetic predisposition, as well as other environmental factors, such as exposure to non-ionic radiation, exposure to chemicals, and pre-conception and post-natal smoking by the parents.  Previous cancer treatment also appears to be a risk factor.  Children and adults who have had certain types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for other kinds of cancer may have an increased risk of developing ALL.  Genetic disorders may predispose some children to ALL, for example Down syndrome, is associated with an increased risk of ALL. People who have a sibling, including a twin, with acute lymphocytic leukemia have an increased risk of ALL.     Many different factors can cause ALL and exposure to more than one of these may be necessary in order for the disease to be initiated. As a result, no direct strategies are in place in order to reduce risk of incidence, but significant progress is being made in designing genetically personalized treatments to cure the disease.

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Contributors:  Mihaela Gheorghe

Last Reviewed: August 28, 2012

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