Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) Risk Factors

There are only a few known risk factors for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). These factors include the following:

Radiation exposure: Exposure to high levels of radiation is a risk factor for both ALL and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The possible risks from exposure to lower levels of radiation, such as from radiation therapy or from medical imaging tests (such as X-rays) are not well known.

Certain chemical exposures: The risk of ALL may be increased by exposure to certain chemotherapy drugs and chemicals, including benzene. Benzene is a solvent used in the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturing and gasoline-related industries, and is also present in cigarette smoke, certain types of glue, cleaning products, detergents, art supplies and paint strippers.

Inherited syndromes: ALL does not appear to be an inherited disease since it doesn’t seem to run in families, so a person's risk is not increased if a family member has the disease. However, there are some inherited syndromes with genetic changes that seem to raise the risk of ALL. These include:

• Down syndrome

• Klinefelter syndrome

• Fanconi's anemia

Bloom syndrome

Ataxia-telangiectasia

Neurofibromatosis

Race/ethnicity: ALL is more common in Caucasians than in African Americans, but the reasons for this are unclear.

Gender: ALL occurs slightly more often in males than in females. The reason for this is unknown, as well.

An identical twin with ALL: This risk is largely confined to the first year of life. As mentioned earlier, most cases of ALL are not believed to have a strong genetic link. Many doctors feel the increased risk among identical twins may be due to leukemia cells being passed from one fetus to the other while in utero.