Childhood AML (acute myeloid leukaemia) | Cancer Research UK
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Childhood AML (acute myeloid leukaemia)

This page tells you about acute myeloid leukaemia in children. There is information on this page about


Symptoms and diagnosis

Many symptoms are vague. Children can feel as if they have a bad cold and seem a bit under the weather and not their usual self. They may have a series of sore throats or other infections. Fever, weakness, painful joints, swollen lymph glands are all common symptoms.

We have general sections on the 2 main types of acute leukaemia - acute myeloid leukaemia and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. These sections are not specific to children, but much of the causes, diagnosis and treatment information will be the same.



Although we have identified a number of lifestyle changes that can help to prevent many adult cancers developing, we don't know how to prevent AML or most other childhood cancers. We don't know what causes childhood AML either. We do know of some factors that increase risk but most children with AML don't have any of these risk factors. And many children who do won't go on to develop AML. The risk factors include

There is more information about all these further down this page. A couple of other factors have come up as possible risk factors but so far there is no conclusive evidence that either of them are related to childhood leukaemia. They are

Inherited conditions

Certain inherited (genetic) conditions can increase a child's risk of developing acute leukaemia. Children with Down's syndrome are 10 to 20 times more likely to get leukaemia than other children. Children born with immune system problems or Fanconi anaemia are also more likely to develop AML. Do bear in mind that AML is still very rare, even in these children.

Exposure to radiation

We know that radiation can increase leukaemia risk because children exposed to radiation after the atomic bombings in Japan had a much greater risk. Children who have radiotherapy for another cancer do have a slightly greater risk of developing acute leukaemia later on. But the risk is small compared to the risk to their health if the original cancer had not been treated with radiotherapy.

Previous cancer treatments

Past treatment with chemotherapy can increase risk of leukaemia many years later in children and adults. This risk depends on which drugs you were treated with and how much treatment you had. The drugs that can cause leukaemia are in a group called alkylating agents. You may have an increased risk if you have had intensive chemotherapy for cancers such as Hodgkin lymphoma or non Hodgkin lymphoma. It is important to remember that this risk is small compared to the risk to your health posed by the cancer you had originally. And most people treated successfully for these diseases do not get leukaemia.

Exposure to the chemical benzene

Exposure to the chemical benzene over a long period of time increases the risk of developing acute leukaemia. This is very rare in children because this level of benzene exposure is usually through work.

Vitamin K injection in newborn babies

To prevent a condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding, vitamin K injections have been given to newborn babies since the late 1950's without any reported problems. VKDB is a very serious disease and about half the babies who suffer it will die or have permanent brain damage because of bleeding into the brain.

Concerns about the safety of vitamin K injection came about in the 1990's when 2 medical papers suggested a link between vitamin K injections and childhood leukaemia. Since then several other studies have been carried out in the UK, across Europe and in the USA which have found no association between vitamin K injections and an increased risk of childhood leukaemia. In 2003, a report from the United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study group concluded that there was no convincing evidence that giving vitamin K to newborns increased the risk of leukaemia or any other cancer in children.

Electromagnetic fields

Some researchers have suggested that exposure to electromagnetic fields might slightly increase a child's risk of developing leukaemia. But other researchers have not yet found a conclusive link. A UK report in 2014 found that children who live near overhead power lines in early life do not have a greater risk of developing childhood leukaemia. There is more information about electromagnetic fields and cancer risk in the question and answer section.

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Updated: 25 February 2014