Childhood Leukemia

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can childhood leukemia be prevented?

Although the risk of many adult cancers can be reduced by lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking), there is no known way to prevent most childhood cancers at this time. Most adults and children with leukemia have no known risk factors, so there is no sure way to prevent their leukemias from developing.

Some leukemias result from treating cancers with radiation and chemotherapy, or the use of immune-suppressing drugs to avoid rejection of transplanted organs. Doctors are looking for ways to treat patients with cancer and organ transplants without raising the risk of leukemia. But for now, the obvious benefits of treating life-threatening diseases with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or organ transplants must be balanced against the small chance of developing leukemia several years later.

X-rays or CT scans done before birth or during childhood use much lower levels of radiation than those used for treatment. If there is any increase in risk from these tests, it is likely to be very small, but to be safe, most doctors recommend that pregnant women and children not get these tests unless they are absolutely needed.

There are very few known lifestyle-related or environmental causes of childhood leukemias, so it is important to know that in most cases there is nothing these children or their parents could have done to prevent these cancers.


Last Medical Review: 10/24/2013
Last Revised: 02/03/2014