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 children with leukemia have no known risk factors, so there is no sure way to prevent these 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Pearce MS, Salotti JA, Little MP, et al. Radiation exposure from CT scans in childhood and subsequent risk of leukaemia and brain tumours: A retrospective cohort study. Lancet. 2012;380(9840):499-505.

Rabin KR, Gramatges MM, Margolin JF, Poplack DG. Chapter 19: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.

Rabin KR, Margolin JF, Kamdar KY, Poplack DG. Chapter 100: Leukemias and Lymphomas of Childhood. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

Last Medical Review: February 12, 2019 Last Revised: February 12, 2019

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