The cause of ALL is not known, but research is going on all the time to find out. Like other cancers, ALL is not infectious and can't be passed on to other people.
Research has shown that a person's risk of developing ALL is NOT significantly increased by:
- exposure to electromagnetic fields
- living near high-voltage electricity cables
- household radon.
However, there are a number of risk factors that may increase a person's risk of developing it. These are:
Exposure to very high radiation levels (such as during a nuclear accident or an atom bomb) is known to increase the risk of developing ALL. However, very few people in the UK will be exposed to radiation levels high enough to increase their risk.
In recent years there has been publicity about the increase in leukaemia in people living close to nuclear power plants. Research is still underway to see if there is any definite link, but currently there is no evidence of this.
ALL is not caused by an inherited faulty gene, so members of your family do not have an increased risk of developing it just because you have it. People with certain genetic disorders, including Down's syndrome and Fanconi's anaemia, are known to have a higher risk of developing leukaemia.
Exposure to chemicals
In very rare cases, leukaemia may occur in people who have been exposed to chemicals used in industry, such as benzene and other solvents.
It is thought that ALL occurs due to a series of genetic changes in a particular group of immature blood cells. What causes the genetic changes is not fully understood, but infection may be involved in the process. However, no specific infections that cause leukaemia have been found.
Leukemia is one of the common types of cancer in India. The incidence (newly diagnosed cases of Cancer in a year) of all types of leukemias together (Acute and Chronic; Lymphoblastic, Pro-myelocytic and Myeloid) is about 4 persons per 1,00,000 population1.
In India, between the years 2001-2003, across five urban centers - Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bhopal and Bangalore, – and one rural center - Barshi, a total of 1,039 cases of Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined) were registered (2.36% of all cancers) for males across all age groups; while 521 cases of Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined) were registered (1.17% of all cancers) for females across all age groups. Considering all men, women and children with all types of cancers together, a grand total of 1,560 cases of Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined) (1.76% of all cancers) were registered at the six centers mentioned above, between the year 2001-20032.
The TATA Memorial Hospital (T.M.H.) in Mumbai, India registered a grand-total of 19,127 cases of all types of cancer patients in the year 2006, for men, women and children combined, out of which 456 (2.4% of the total cases) were diagnosed with the Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined). Out of the total 456 patients diagnosed with Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined), mentioned above at the T.M.H., 333 (73%) were males and 123 (27%) were females3.
Eighteen percent of all Haematopoetic cancers among men, women and children in the year 2006 at the T.M.H. were attributable to Lymphoblastic leukemia (both Acute and Chronic combined).