Leukemia Overview and Causes

Causes of Leukemia

The majority of childhood leukemias are acquired genetic diseases. This means that gene mutations and chromosome abnormalities in cells occur sporadically (by chance).

The immune system plays an important role in protecting the body from diseases, and possibly cancer. An alteration or defect in the immune system may increase the risk for developing leukemia. Factors such as exposure to certain viruses, environmental factors, chemical exposures, and various infections have been associated with damage to the immune system.

With the exception of specific genetic syndromes, little is known about the causes of childhood leukemia.

Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in childhood. It affects approximately 3,800 children each year in the United States, accounting for about 30 percent of childhood cancers.

There are different types of leukemia. According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the type of leukemia that most commonly affects children, most often between the ages of 2 and 3 years. ALL accounts for about 73 percent of leukemia cases each year in the US.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is the second most common form of leukemia in children. AML generally occurs by the age of 2 years, and is not often seen in older children until the teenage years. AML is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults.
  • The chronic forms of leukemia are rarely seen in children.

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