Down's syndrome and leukemia: epidemiology, genetics, cytogenetics and mechanisms of leukemogenesis

Cancer Genet Cytogenet. 1987 Sep;28(1):55-76. doi: 10.1016/0165-4608(87)90354-2.


The association of Down's syndrome and leukemia has been documented for over 50 years. Multiple studies have established the incidence of leukemia in Down's syndrome patients to be 10- to 20-fold higher than that in the general population. The age of onset for leukemia in these children is bimodal, peaking first in the newborn period and again at 3-6 years. This increased risk extends into adulthood. All cytogenetic types of Down's syndrome apparently predispose to leukemia. The proportion of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute nonlymphoblastic leukemia in patients with Down's syndrome is similar to non-Down's syndrome leukemia patients matched for age. There are case reports in which leukemia, Down's syndrome, and other chromosomal aberrations cluster within a family. In these kindreds, there may be a familial tendency toward nondisjunction. Congenital leukemia also occurs with increased frequency in Down's syndrome patients, and is characterized by a preponderance of acute nonlymphoblastic leukemia (similar to non-Down's syndrome patients). Transient leukemoid reactions have been observed in Down's syndrome patients, as well as in phenotypically normal children with constitutional trisomy 21 mosaicism. The transient leukemoid reactions are characterized by a high spontaneous remission rate. However, in some Downs syndrome patients with apparent transient leukemoid reaction, leukemia relapse following periods of spontaneous remission have been reported. Cytogenetic studies of leukemic cells in Down's syndrome patients show a tendency toward hyperdiploidy. Besides trisomy 21, there is no other specific cytogenetic abnormality that is characteristic of the leukemia cells in Down's syndrome patients. The possible mechanisms for leukemogenesis in Down's syndrome patients may involve factors at the levels of the organism, the organ/system, the cell, the chromosomes or the DNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Down Syndrome / complications*
  • Down Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Down Syndrome / genetics
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leukemia / complications*
  • Leukemia / congenital
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / genetics
  • Risk