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Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)


Incidence and Epidemiology

ALL is the most common cancer diagnosed in children and represents approximately 25% of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15 years.[3,4] ALL occurs at an annual rate of 35 to 40 cases per 1 million people in the United States.[3,4,6] There are approximately 2,900 children and adolescents younger than 20 years diagnosed with ALL each year in the United States.[6,7] Over the past 25 years, there has been a gradual increase in the incidence of ALL.[3,4,8]

A sharp peak in ALL incidence is observed among children aged 2 to 3 years (>90 cases per 1 million per year), with rates decreasing to fewer than 30 cases per 1 million by age 8 years.[3,4] The incidence of ALL among children aged 2 to 3 years is approximately fourfold greater than that for infants and is likewise fourfold to fivefold greater than that for children aged 10 years and older.[3,4]

The incidence of ALL appears to be highest in Hispanic children (43 cases per 1 million).[3,4,6] The incidence is substantially higher in white children than in black children, with a nearly threefold higher incidence of ALL from age 2 to 3 years in white children than in black children.[3,4,6]


Childhood ALL originates in the T- and B-lymphoblasts in the bone marrow (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Blood cell development. Different blood and immune cell lineages, including T- and B-lymphocytes, differentiate from a common blood stem cell.

Marrow involvement of acute leukemia as seen by light microscopy is defined as follows:

  • M1: Fewer than 5% blast cells.
  • M2: 5% to 25% blast cells.
  • M3: Greater than 25% blast cells.

Most patients with acute leukemia present with an M3 marrow.

Risk Factors for Developing ALL

Few factors associated with an increased risk of ALL have been identified. The primary accepted risk factors for ALL include the following:

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