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Possible Environmental Causes of Childhood Leukemia
A recurring thread amongst the parents in the online ALL discussion list is: "What caused my child's leukemia?" We all wonder whether we might have used a pesticide, household cleaner, paint, etc. that caused our children to get leukemia. Or was it industrial pollution, electromagnetic fields, or radiation? Clusters of cases of childhood ALL have been in the press, what caused them? How can we get the environment cleared of possible causes of leukemia and other childhood cancers?
Not many agents have been officially documented as causes of leukemia. Two of these agents are: benzene and radiation (in general, not specifically childhood leukemia; the carcinogenic properties of these two agents is supported by a multitude of journal articles and MSDSs).
A lot of other factors that are suspected to increase the risk for childhood leukemia have been studied. In acute lymphoblastic leukemia, most researchers believe that it takes 2 or 3 "hits" to the DNA in just the right places to turn a normal developing cell into a leukemia cell. The hits might be totally random (meaning they happen as a result of mistakes in DNA synthesis) or they can be from exposure to something in the environment. Some research shows that the hits can happen in utero or even because the father's sperm was compromised.
The purpose of this section is to gather information on research into the causes of leukemia in order to give parents a place to start their own research. I also list organizations that are seeking to rid the environment of causes of childhood cancer.
Note: This page focuses on environmental causes. Genetic factors that lend to susceptibility to leukemia (for instance, Down's Syndrome) are discussed on the cancer.gov web site.
Note: My Bibliography of Journal Articles is on a separate page: Bibliography: causes of leukemia
A Summary on EnviroHealthPolicy.net
The above website is dated 2001 and includes journal references. Includes pesticides, radon, EMFs, solvents, ionizing radiation. The author is an expert in environmental issues and currently is at Univ. Cal. Berkeley School of Public Health. (2011)
Magnetic Fields/Power Lines
Magnetic fields have come and gone and come again as causes of leukemia. On the uk.gov site: a 2013 article on a large study of the effects of electromagnetic fields on childhood leukemia: Electric and magnetic fields: health effects of exposure discusses a large study of the effects of electromagnetic fields and children
In the July 1, 2004 of the New England Journal of Medicine, Hocking (Australia) claims there is an association between leukemia and magnetic fields. See: correspondence, Magnetic Fields and Leukemia, Bruck Hocking, M.B., B.S., July 1, 2004. Abstract.
Magnetic Field Exposure and Cancer on the NCI site: Questions and Answers
EMF on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) web site. "While some of these studies showed a possible link between EMF field strength and an increased risk for childhood leukemia , their findings indicated that such an association was weak."Electric & Magnetic Fields
2005 article on power lines/leukemia in Lancet Oncology.
Radio Frequency Safety on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) web site. Radio Frequency Safety
A few childhood ALL clusters have been documented. If you know about one and would like it listed here, let me know. If you feel that your area has too many cases of childhood ALL per population, there's not a lot I know about to help you, except to try to get the public health records by zip code. If you join the ALL-kids list, someone there might be able to help you.
A lot of the web-based information on studies of leukemia clusters comes from the United Kingdom. From the Leukaemia Research Fund web site: "in 1994 the Royal Society of Edinburgh held a Symposium on Leukaemia Clusters, the report of this meeting is made available by kind permission of the Royal Society." (Occasional Paper) Unfortunately, by 2011 the Leukaemia Research Fund melded into Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, Beating Blood Cancers, and a lot of the good information from the original site was not carried through. I have a printed copy of this article somewhere. (PF, 2011)
The CDC on leukemia clusters
The Fallon cluster: My links for the Fallon Cluster no longer work. There was a documentary on the issue called "Fallon, NV: Deadly Oasis".
The role of infection
One theory is that leukemia can come about as the result of an inappropriate response to an infection by a virus or germ in early childhood. Kinlen and Hall have studied population mixing in the United Kingdom, and have done a lot of epidemiological studies, especially on childhood leukemia in mobile populations. Search PubMed for LJ Kinlen, also see this blurb from a 1999 press article. Andy Hall will snail mail the research paper to anyone who asks for it. Louise Parker (one of the docs that did the research) will answer any questions. (Please e-mail Patty if you wish to contact these people.)
"What do epidemiologists mean by population mixing?" An article in Pediatric Blood and Cancer, 2008.
JP-8 Jet Fuel Issues
At one time, JP-8 jet fuel was thought to be a concern in the Fallon cluster (date in the link below is around fall of 2001). Jet fuel has also been in the press off and on as a possible cause of leukemia in other situations.
Note by PF: This is the first article I've read with such a high percentage of cases caused by natural radiation. A decade ago I searched for radon-caused links, and found none. (2011)
Numbers and proportions of leukemias in young people and adults induced by radiation of natural origin. Gerald Kendalla, Mark P. Little and Richard Wakeford, Leukemia Research, Volume 35, Issue 8, August 2011, Pages 1039-1043. Abstract. "We use recent estimates of doses to the red bone marrow to calculate the number and proportion of cases of leukemia in England induced by natural radiation. . . . In young people up to the age of 25 years the attributable fraction is about 15%, substantially lower than a previous estimate." Natural origin radiation includes cosmic rays and long-lived natural radionuclides, e.g., radon. The latter can be either inhaled or ingested.
Web Sites with Overviews on the Causes of Leukemia
Leukemia and lymphoma society
American Cancer Society
Chem-Tox site Environmental causes of childhood cancer. Interesting reading. I do not vouch for the validity of all of their statements.
National Cancer Institute, SEER page: A compendium of statistical trends and risk factors associated with childhood cancers is available on the SEER Web page. SEER project.
See also: Causes of Childhood Cancer (on this ped-onc site)
Ongoing Scientific Studies on the Causes of Cancer
Building a Network of Research in Children's Environmental Health by Dearry AD, Collman GW, Saint C, Fields N, Redd S. (Not really a survey of what causes ALL, but a statement of governmental concern about possible environmental risks and directives for studying the same.) Full Text.
These pages are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to render medical advice. The information provided on Ped Onc Resource Center should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you suspect your child has a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.
© copyright 1998-2018 by Patty Feist
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Journal of Leukemia is a peer reviewed medical journal that includes a wide range of fields in Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Acute Myleoid Leukemia, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Chronic Myleloid Leukemia, Hairy Cell Leukemia, Pediatric Leukemia, Leukemia drugs, Stem Cell Transplant, Plasma cell Leukemia, Mast cell Leukemia, Lymphoma Cancer, Lymphoma Symptoms, Spleen cancer, Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia, Aleukemic Leukemia , Lymphosarcoma, Megakaryocytic Leukemia, Feline Leukemia complex, Epidemiologic studies and other Hematologic malignancies and creates a platform for the authors to make their contribution towards the journal and the editorial office promises peer process for the submitted manuscripts to ensure quality.
Leukemia is one of the best open access journals that aims to publish the most complete and reliable source of information on discoveries and current developments in the mode of Original articles, Review articles, Case reports, Short communications, etc. in the field and provides free online access to the researchers worldwide.
This scholarly open access journal is using Editorial Manager System for online manuscript submission, review and the progress of the article. Editorial board members of Journal of Leukemia or outside experts review manuscripts; at least two independent reviewer’s approval followed by the editor is required for the acceptance of any citable manuscript.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. Leukemia begins in a cell in the bone marrow. The cell undergoes a change and becomes a type of leukemia cell. Once the marrow cell undergoes a leukemic change, the leukemia cells may grow and survive better than normal cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out or suppress the development of normal cells. The rate at which leukemia progresses and how the cells replace the normal blood and marrow cells are different with each type of leukemia.
It is the most common type of blood cancer and affects 10 times as many adults as children. Most people diagnosed with leukemia are over 50 years old.
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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is a cancer that starts from the early version of white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of the bones, where new blood cells are made). The term “acute” means that the leukemia can progress quickly, and if not treated, would probably be fatal within a few months. Lymphocytic means it develops from early (immature) forms of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Acute leukemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.
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Acute Myleoid Leukemia
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has many other names, including acute myelocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia. “Acute” means that this leukemia can progress quickly if not treated, and would probably be fatal in a few months. “Myeloid” refers to the type of cell this leukemia starts from. Most cases of AML develop from cells that would turn into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes), but some cases of AML develop in other types of blood-forming cells.
AML starts in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of certain bones, where new blood cells are made), but in most cases it quickly moves into the blood. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and testicles. It occurs in both adults and children and affects about 18,000 people each year in the U.S.
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Chronic Myleloid Leukemia
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells - the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.
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Hairy Cell Leukemia
Hairy cell leukemia is rare. It occurs mostly in people aged 40-60 and is more common in men than in women. HCL usually develops very slowly. HCL affects a type of white blood cell called a B‑lymphocyte. When this cell is examined under a microscope, it looks as if it has hair-like outgrowths (projections) on its surface. This is where HCL gets its name from.
In HCL, the abnormal white blood cells also build up in the spleen and cause it to grow. An enlarged spleen may remove normal blood cells from the bloodstream. This can also reduce the number of red blood cells and normal white blood cells. The causes of HCL are unknown. It is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.
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Pediatric Leukemia is also called as Juvenile Leukemia and childhood leukemia. Accounts for less than 1% of childhood leukemias Approx. 25-50 children are diagnosed each year in the US Children are usually diagnosed before 2 years old More common in boys than girls Symptoms can take months to develop Usually no symptoms are seen in the early stages Once diagnosed progressive deterioration occurs.
This Leukemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children, accounting for about 30% of all cases. Approximately 1 in 2,000 children will develop it before the age of 15 years.
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Plasma Cell Leukemia
Plasma cell leukemia (PCL) is a rare and aggressive plasma cell dyscrasia. Patients with PCL have a very poor prognosis with median survival measured in months. PCL can present de novo or following a prodrome of plasma cell myeloma. Patients with PCL tend to present with aggressive clinical features, such as extramedullary disease, bone marrow failure. The treatment of PCL has primarily been palliative, with only a small minority of patients achieving a durable remission.
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Mast Cell Leukemia
Mast cell leukemia (MCL) is a very rare form of aggressive systemic mastocytosis accounting for < 1% of all mastocytosis. It may appear de novo or secondary to previous mastocytosis and shares more clinicopathologic aspects with systemic mastocytosis than with acute myeloid leukemia. Symptoms of mast cell activation-involvement of the liver, spleen, peritoneum, bones, and marrow-are frequent.The common phenotypic features of pathologic mast cells encountered in most forms of mastocytosis are unreliable in MCL.
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Lymphoma is different from leukemia. Each of these cancers starts in a different type of cell. Lymphoma starts in infection-fighting lymphocytes. Leukemia starts in blood-forming cells inside bone marrow. Lymphoma is also not the same as lymphedema, which is a collection of fluid that forms under the skin when lymph nodes are damaged.
There are two main types of lymphoma:
Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma each affect a different kind of lymphocyte. Every type of lymphoma grows at a different rate and responds differently to treatment.
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The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, usually in the armpit, groin or neck. This is caused by the damaged lymphocytes collecting in that node. The swelling may also ache. Fever, Chills, Unexplained weight loss, These symptoms are nonspecific. This means that they could be caused by any number of conditions unrelated to cancer. For instance, they could be signs of the flu or other viral infection, but in those cases, they would not last very long. In lymphoma, the symptoms persist over time and cannot be explained by an infection or another disease.
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Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia
Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia one of the more common types of acute myelogenous leukemia, characterized by both malignant monocytes and myeloblasts; it usually affects middle aged to older adults, although it affects people of all ages. AML sometimes is caused by chemotherapy or radiation therapy given to treat another cancer.
In AML, immature leukemia cells rapidly accumulate in the bone marrow, destroying and replacing cells that produce normal blood cells. The leukemia cells are released into the bloodstream and are transported to other organs, where they continue to grow and divide. They can form small masses (chloromas) in or just under the skin or gums or in the eyes. There are several subtypes of AML, which are identified based on characteristics of the leukemia cells.
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Leukemia is a serious disease, a cancer of blood or bone marrow. It is a cancer of white blood cells (WBCs). Abnormal production of leukocytes or white blood cells in the bone marrow leads to leukemia, resulting in several health complications. Aleukemic Leukemia is a leukemia in which the leukocyte count is normal or below normal.
In aleukemic leukemia, increased number of white blood cells is not detected in a blood test. It is a rare type of leukemia. This type of leukemia can also be lymphocytic, monocytic, or myelogenous. It can be seen in patients diagnosed with acute/chronic lymphocytic/meylogenous leukemia and also in prolymphocytic leukemia, and myelodysplastic syndrome.
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Acute Megakaryocytic Leukemia
Acute megakaryocytic leukemia (AMeL) is a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Even if it is a well-known entity, it could be frequently misdiagnosed as acute myelosclerosis. The disease is rare and, due to difficulty in diagnosis, its exact incidence is not known. Reasonably, it may account for approximately 1-2% of all de novo acute myeloid leukemias (AML) in the adult population, but the incidence in the pediatric age group is higher, partly due to an association with Down syndrome. The incidence of this form of AML shows a high variability according to the different reports, that it ranges from 8 to 15% of all acute leukemias. Clinical experience with this rare leukemia remains limited.
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Feline Leukemia Complex
Feline leukemia is a cancerous disease caused by feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Feline leukemia is a disease that only affects cats -- it cannot be transmitted to people, dogs, or other animals. FeLV is passed from one cat to another through saliva, blood, and to some extent, urine and feces. The virus does not live long outside the cat’s body -- probably just a few hours. FeLV is a type of virus called a retrovirus.
Only about 3% of cats in single-cat households have the virus, but for cats that spend time outdoors, the rate is much higher. Still, the prevalence of FeLV has decreased over the last 25 years because of vaccines and reliable tests.
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