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Higher Rates Of Childhood Cancer Linked To Ultra-Clean Environments, Lack Of Microbial Exposure: Study

May 22, 2018 07:01 AM EDT
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Leukemia is devastating, but especially in children. Now, experts have identified the most credible explanation for children suffering from the deadly disease.

In a groundbreaking analysis by leading leukemia expert professor Mel Greaves from The Institute of Cancer Research in London, it's revealed that children whose immune systems are not primed become more susceptible to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL.

The new paper, published in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer, offers an explanation to ALL in otherwise healthy children — and suggests that this childhood disease may even be preventable.

Two-Step Process Of Developing Leukemia

According to the research, this type of cancer — which is reportedly the most common childhood cancer — is caused by a two-step process, MedicalXpress says.

The first step is a genetic mutation in the fetus that predisposes the child to the disease. However, just 1 percent of all kids with this mutation develop ALL.

The second step is when the disease gets triggered during childhood through exposure to common infections. This step occurs primarily in children who spent the first year of their life in ultra-clean environments with little interaction with other infants or older kids. The lack of microbial exposure in early childhood, Greaves suggests, can lead to a malfunctioning immune system.

"The research strongly suggests that ALL has a clear biological cause, and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed," Greaves explains in a statement in MedicalXpress, adding that other popular environmental causes are not well supported by evidence.

Although other factors may come into play such as genetics, diet, and pure chance, limiting microbial exposure in children is found to be the most credible reason so far behind children developing ALL.

Furthermore, ALL may be preventable by exposing children to infection early in life through methods such as breastfeeding and attending day care with other children.

"It might be done in the same way that is currently under consideration for autoimmune disease or allergies — perhaps with simple and safe interventions to expose infants to a variety of common and harmless 'bugs,'" Greaves continues, saying that the most significant implication of his study is the potential that many childhood leukemia cases may be preventable.

A Landmark Research

The findings of this particular study could change the lives of children all over the world, sparing them the trauma, costs, and danger of getting sick and being treated for ALL.

Greaves analyzed more than 30 years' worth of research to come to his conclusions, saying that he focused on solving the gap on why seemingly healthy children go on to get sick with leukemia.

Professor Paul Workman, The Institute of Cancer Research chief executive, praises Greaves as one of the United Kingdom's leading cancer researchers, especially in the wake of his new findings.

"It's exciting to think that, in future, childhood leukaemia could become a preventable disease as a result of this work," he says, adding that the prevention of the disease would make a massive impact worldwide.

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