What Causes Leukemia in Children?


Quick Answer

Doctors do not know the cause of most childhood leukemias as of 2015, and most children with leukemia do not have specific risk factors, notes the American Cancer Society. Some diseases and inherited gene mutations increase the risk of leukemia in children, and in rare cases, exposure to radiation or chemicals leads to gene mutations that can cause leukemia.

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What Causes Leukemia in Children?
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Full Answer

Researchers have discovered that changes in the DNA of normal bone marrow cells cause them to turn into leukemia cells, reports the American Cancer Society. Chromosome translocation, in which DNA breaks off one chromosome and attaches itself to another chromosome, is a common DNA change that can lead to leukemia. Chromosome translocation causes most cases of childhood chronic myeloid leukemia and some cases of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia. DNA mutations that turn on oncogenes that control when cells grow, divide or stay alive can also cause childhood leukemia, as can mutations that turn off tumor suppressor genes that slow down cell division and cause cells to die at the right time.

Mutations inherited from parents that lead to conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, in which there is a mutation of the TP53 tumor suppressor gene, also increase the risk of developing leukemia, notes the American Cancer Society. Some researchers have suggested that a combination of genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk of childhood leukemia, such as in children who inherit genes that are unable to break down chemicals that cause cancer.

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