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Childhood leukaemia may be preventable by exposure to infections in early life

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 21 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2246
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. London, UK

The more common form of childhood leukaemia is caused by a two stage process of genetic mutation and may be preventable, a leading expert in the disease has said.1

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the commonest childhood cancer in developed countries, affecting one in 2000 children up to the age of 15 and growing in incidence at 1% a year. More usually seen in richer countries and in firstborn children, there has been a suspicion that infection—or rather an abnormal response to infection—plays a role in its causation.

Mel Greaves of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, who has spent four decades studying the disease, says that two genetic changes are almost certainly responsible.

The first change occurs in the womb. Greaves told a briefing at the Science Media Centre in London that this genetic change is found in 5% of newborns, but only one in a 100 of them go on to develop ALL. No …

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