Breastfeeding could reduce the risk of childhood Leukemia

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Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood or the bone marrow. Bone marrow has the role in producing blood cells. Leukemia can occur when the body has a problem in producing blood cells. It usually affects the white blood cells or leukocytes. Most likely it will attack the people who are over the age of 55, but it is becoming common among the young including the children.

Leukemia is rare, but it is the most common type of cancer to affect the children.

Types of Childhood Leukemia

Leukemia is chronic (slow-growing) or acute (fast-growing) and almost all the childhood leukemias are acute in these main types:

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) affects most children of ages 3-5. It starts with an early form of lymphocytes in bone marrow. Most of those who have ALL are children from Hispanic parents, followed by whites and Afro-Americans. More boys than girls contract the childhood cancer.

It occurs even in the first world countries such as the USA where doctors diagnose about 3,000 cases in people under 20 per year.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

AML also called as called acute myeloid leukemia or acute myelocytic leukemia accounts for most of the childhood leukemia cases after ALL. AML starts with myeloid cells forming white blood cells (except lymphocytes) platelets or red blood cells.

Mixed lineage or hybrid leukemia

Hybrid is a rare type of leukemia with cells that have features AML and ALL. Treatment for children with Hybrid leukemia usually get treated like they have ALL, and they respond to treatment like it is the only type that is affecting them.

Chronic leukemias

Chronic Leukemia is one of these two types, but they rarely occur in children.

  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

A child who gets one of them gets similar treatment to adults.

Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML)

JMML is a rare type of cancer that occurs in young children of less than 4 years which begins from the myeloid cells. It does not grow slow as CML or fast as AML.

Causes of Childhood Leukemia

Childhood leukemia is the leading cause of deaths in children and teens in countries of the developed world, but there is little information on how the infection starts. Leukemia attacks the white blood cells that help in protecting the body against diseases by fighting off infections. It makes the bone marrow to have too many immature white cells to the extent of crowding out the normal ones with the potential to fight off diseases. The body struggles to fight infections if it does not have enough healthy white blood cells. All affects lymphocytes, a particular type of white blood cell causing it to build up in the spleen, liver and lymph nodes.

Leukemia sets in when a DNA of the immature blood cells mainly the white gets some damage. It triggers a continued growth and division of these cells until they become too many. They cause the health blood cells and their replacement in new cells that the bone marrow produces to start dying after a while.

Abnormal blood cells stay on without dying when they should. They even accumulate to occupy more space. The production of cancer cells increases to the extent of stopping the growth and natural functioning of white blood cells by crowding out the space in blood. In the end, the bad cells will dominate the good blood cells. Siblings of children with childhood leukemia are at a higher risk to develop ALL, but the rate is still low compared to other diseases at just 1 for 500 cases.

Reducing the Risk Of Childhood Leukemia By Breastfeeding

Pediatrics and al health practitioners advocate for exclusive breastfeeding of children for six months as it enhances healthy growth and boosts immunity. The case is not different for leukemia. Researchers in a study at Israel showed that babies who get breast fed for at least the first six months of their life appear to be at a lower risk of contracting childhood leukemia compared to the children who breastfeed fed for fewer months or never breast milk.

A mother's breast milk has infection fighting properties that can reduce occurrence of leukemia and other diseases. Women have no reason to deny their babies this advantage unless there is a complication. Breast milk is available and has essential nutrients to help the development of the baby and maintain the health of the baby through the adulthood. New studies show that there is even now a substantial reason to consider breastfeeding a child even more because of its potential to protect children against leukemia. Researchers analyzed the data from 18 studies.

The act of breastfeeding is a low cost preventive and highly accessible public health measure that the above studies and others found to lower the risk of childhood leukemia. The lead author of the study and a member, School of Public Health at the University of Haifa in Israel Efrat

Amitay said that breastfeeding reduces the risk of “gastrointestinal infection, Sudden Infant Death (SIDS), type 2 diabetes, obesity and ear infection later in life.”

The study gives the mother a substantial reason to breast fed and breastfeeding advocacy another reason to up the intensity of the campaigns. Amitay adds that breastfeeding has a distinct public benefit and that it is something to encourage and facilitate widely.

The research is based on data analysis from 18 studies. Researchers found out the children who fed on breast milk for at least six months had a lower risk of childhood leukemia by 19% than children fed for a shorter period or did receive breastfeeding. The risk of childhood leukemia is less than 11 percent in children child who breastfeeds for a period but less than six months even if it just one time than those who have never breastfed.

Although breastfeeding has various benefits for the baby and even the mother, it was essential to determine if the breastfeeding has any capacity to reduce the risk of leukemia. The study authors reviewed 18 studies involving over 10,000 children with leukemia and over 17,500 healthy children.

Researchers also did a separate analysis of 15 studies to confirm if breastfeeding led to benefit over children who have never taken breast milk. The second analysis did not include three studies from an original group because they did not get data on infants who never breast fed.

Breast feeding is a total food that nature has prepared to supply all the nutritional needs of an infant during the first few months of life. Breast milk is an active substance with antibodies that mother's body manufactures together with other unique qualities that help in promoting healthy flora within the intestines of a baby influencing the development of a child’s immune system. Breast milk provides more benefits because the body of a mother makes antibodies to fight the harmful substances that can attack her and the baby.

Supporting Breastfeeding preventive Role by Identifying Other Childhood Leukemia Risk Factors

All types of cancers including childhood leukemia have become disastrous across the world. It is essential for a parent to be on the lookout for other risk factors that might increase the likelihood of leukemia in their baby. A risk factor is something that affects the chances of contracting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers occur due to various risk facts, but most occur due to genetic risk facts that are part of the substances making up the genes (DNA). Most are an inheritance from the parents, and nothing can change them although there is no link between leukemia to genetic causes.

Lifestyle plays a significant role in the occurrence of cancers, but these factors usually affect the adults who grapple with body weight, diet, tobacco use and lack of physical activity. These factors influence the offset of cancer after many years hence have a minimal part in childhood cancer including leukemia. However, the parents should take concern and even ask for medical advice about the risk of contracting childhood leukemia if these inherited disorders are present.

1. Li-Fraumeni syndrome

This syndrome is a rare condition that occurs due to a change in the TP53 tumor suppressor gene. This change increases the risk of developing several types of cancer including leukemia, brain tumor, adrenal gland, and breast cancer.

2. Down syndrome (trisomy 21)

Children who have Down syndrome have a third extra copy of chromosome 21. Chances of developing acute myloid leukemia (AML) or acute lymphocytric leukemia (ALL) than other children whose overall risk is 2-3%. Down syndrome also has a link to transient leukemia (transient myeloproliferative disorder) a condition that is almost similar to other types of leukemia only that occurs within the first month of life but usually resolves without treatment. It is essential to keep checking the condition of the baby even if transient leukemia clears because it might recur or another type of childhood leukemia can occur. Other genetic disorders like Fanconi anemia and neurofibromatosis can carry a higher risk of leukemia and different types of cancer.

3.Having a sibling with leukemia

The chances of a child contracting childhood leukemia are slightly higher by 2-4 times if a brother or sister got the disease at one time but the risk is still low. It is higher when an identical twin develops childhood leukemia. It makes the other one have 1-5 chances of contracting this disease, and it is even more likely to occur if leukemia occurs within the first year of life. This condition only applies among siblings because the risk of leukemia does not increase in a child if a father or mother develops it in adulthood.

4.Inherited immune system problems

Some inherited conditions can cause a child to have some immune issues at birth that increase the risk of severe infections from a reduction in immune defenses. Such children are at an increased risk of getting leukemia because of having conditions that reduce the immunity such as:

  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
  • Ataxia –telangiectasia
  • Bloom syndrome
  • Schwachman –Diamonds syndrome

5.Lifestyle risk factors

Some studies state that mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy could compromise on the immunity and increase the risk of leukemia in her child but not many researchers have found this link.

6. Immune system suppression

Chilren who receive intensive treatment with an aim to suppress their immune system especially those who got organ transplants are at more risk of specific disease including ALL and lymphoma.

7. Radiation exposure

Exposure to high radiation levels is one of the risk factors of childhood leukemia within 6-8 years after exposure. The risk of developing AML is also higher after fetus exposure to high level radiation within the first months of development although the extent of risk and timeframe is not clear. The extent of risk to low radiation such as CT scans or X-ray tests are not clear but most doctors those pregnant mothers should not take a chance unless these tests are essential.

8. Exposure to chemotherapy and certain chemicals

Some chemotherapy drugs increase chances of getting second cancer. Chilren who get treatment with these drugs might get childhood leukemia usually AML within 5-10 years after first treatment, and unfortunately, it is harder to treat. Etoposide, teniposide, and chlorambucil are some of the drugs that researchers link to risk of getting leukemia. Exposure to chemicals that like benzene that manufacturers use for making plastics, drugs and dyes might increase the risk of AML and ALL to a small extent. However, benzene causes leukemia in more adults than kids.

Some studies have also found that childhood leukemia has a link to pesticides which can be during pregnancy or early years of life. These researches need additional studies to confirm the findings with more specific information because they were of carrying them out had severe limitations.

The evidence showing that breast milk has antibodies from the mother’s immune system to stimulate immunity in newborns is abundant. Mothers should breastfeed their children much as they can for at least six months to improve resistance against possible infections including childhood leukemia.

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