Hispanic children are the most at risk for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
Leukemia starts in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues, and according to Latino Health Issues Collection, it is an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell. Acute lymphocytic leukemia develops when the body reproduces immature white blood cells (lymphocytes) that replace regular cells in the bone marrow, and leave the body helpless and vulnerable. It’s the most common form of acute leukemia in children.
Risk factors of acute lymphocytic leukemia include having a blood relative with leukemia, being Hispanic or non-Hispanic white, and having Down Syndrome.
According to medical experts at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, not only are Hispanic children more likely to be diagnosed with ALL, they are more likely than other children to die from the disease.
Even adult Hispanics are not immune to the disparity concerning acute leukemia, and overall, Hispanics have a 46 percent increased risk of dying from ALL when compared to non-Hispanic whites.
“These data tell us that the disparity in overall survival in acute leukemia is driven by higher death rates in ALL,” Manali I. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., postdoctoral fellow in hematology/oncology at the Stanford Cancer Institute in Stanford, Calif, who headed up a study on the subject, said in a statement.“We don’t know the reason for the disparity, but now that we know it exists we can investigate why it occurs. Like all disparities in cancer there could be any combination of influences; however, we believe that socioeconomic factors and access to care may be playing an important role.”
Other evidence suggests Hispanic children are more likely than other children to inherit genes associated with acute leukemia. Researchers have connected the gene ARDI5B to an increased risk for ALL as well as an increased risk for cancer recurrence. According to researchers, Hispanic children are twice as likely to inherit the versions of ARID5B associated with ALL.
“For years we have known about ethnic and racial disparities in ALL risk and outcome, but the biology behind it has been elusive,” said Jun Yang, Ph.D., an assistant member of the St. Jude Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the paper’s corresponding author, in a hospital statement. “Therefore, it is truly exciting to be able to not only pin down the biological basis but to find that the same gene might be responsible for both differences. Children who inherit high-risk versions of ARID5B are more likely to develop ALL in the first place and then more likely to fail therapy.”
Acute leukemia affects approximately 4,000 people in the United States annually, and is most commonly found in children under the age of 10.
Symptoms of leukemia include: tendency to infections, easy bleeding, lost of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, bone pain, night sweats, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, rashes and weakness.
Since these symptoms can appear in other conditions too, thorough medical examinations are usually performed when diagnosing. These include white blood cell counts, platelet counts, spinal taps, bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used to treat acute leukemia. In some recent cases, new immunotherapy using modified T-cells from the HIV virus has been proven successful.