Causes of childhood leukaemia and lymphoma

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004 Sep 1;199(2):104-17. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2003.12.032.


Childhood cancer is rare comprising less than 1% of all malignancies diagnosed each year in developed countries. Leukaemia is the commonest form of cancer in children accounting for around a third of all childhood cancer, with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) being the most prevalent. Biologically specific subtypes of ALL and acute myeloblastic leukaemia (AML), the other major morphological type of childhood leukaemia, are characterised by chromosomal changes. Whilst over 200 genes have been associated with chromosomal translocations, to date, only MLL, TEL, and AML1 have been linked with childhood leukaemia. Interestingly, there is increasing evidence to support the theory that gene rearrangements such as these may originate in utero. As with many other human diseases, both genetic and environmental factors have been implicated in the aetiology of the disease. Although much has been documented with regard to diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and recreational and prescription drug use during pregnancy, there is no consistent evidence to support a link with any of these factors and childhood leukaemia. However, findings from studies investigating prenatal and early life exposures are often based on small numbers of cases as both the type of cancer and exposure are rare. Furthermore, accurate information relating to past exposures can be difficult to obtain and is often reliant on self-reporting. To further our understanding of the aetiology of childhood leukaemia and lymphoma, there are areas which clearly warrant investigation. These include collection of parental dietary folate data combined with genetic analysis of the folate related genes, in utero exposure to DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors, and the possible effects of assisted reproduction technology on disease susceptibility.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens
  • Child
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Fertility / physiology
  • Folic Acid
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology
  • Life Style
  • Lymphoma / epidemiology
  • Lymphoma / etiology*


  • Carcinogens
  • Folic Acid