Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer in children, affecting one in 2,000 children with a rate increase in affluent countries by 1% a year. It is a combination of a genetic mutation and then a common infection in the first year of a child’s life.
A brief introduction to ALL
Directly from the womb, a genetic change may cause something called a pre-leukemic clone. During that first “clean” year of life, parents focus on children lacking an exposure to microbes which will stop the immune system from learning how to manage them correctly. In some cases, this will eventually trigger ALL through a common infection.
So how can it be prevented?
Mel Greaves, the review author from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, has provided promising information about the causes of ALL and goes even further to say that it could even be preventable. He has researched childhood leukaemia for more than 40 years and remarked a huge progress regarding biology and its treatment. However, there has always been a problem on how exactly healthy children develop leukaemia. Greaves doesn’t take into account causes such as pollution or exposure to electro-magnetic waves but emphasizes that ALL is triggered by diverse infections in small children with weak immune systems.
He presented evidence including human and animal studies, showing that the higher the exposure to microbes, the lower the chances of developing ALL are. For example, animals bred in a “clean” environment will develop leukaemia when exposed to an infection. Moreover, breastfed children who are going to nursery or have older siblings have a lower chance of developing ALL. Mel Greaves gives a more realistic option, namely a prophylactic vaccine that acts as the protective impact of natural infections at an early age.
Alasdair Rankin, from the UK blood cancer charity Bloodwise, emphasises that childhood leukaemia is very rare and parents shouldn’t worry after reading this article. It is important to mention that information is still gathered and other factors may influence its development, even pure chance. Despite the fact that scientists have already mentioned genetic factors as a risk factor, this research gives a solid overview of the disease.