Children's Hospital Colorado

Leukemia in Children

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow, the substance inside of bones that makes blood cells. Because it primarily affects the blood, leukemia is typically called a blood cancer.

Leukemia affects lymphocytes, or white blood cells, a part of the immune system that helps fight infection. In leukemia, the bone marrow produces a lot of abnormal white blood cells that don’t function the way they should.

What causes leukemia in children?

Leukemia is the result of the rapid buildup of abnormal white blood cells. It’s not known exactly what causes leukemia in children, although it is most likely related to changes in the genes within blood cells, possibly as the result of a viral infection or other factors. These changes are not usually inherited from parents; in other words, having one child with leukemia does not typically mean siblings or other family members are at risk.

Who gets leukemia?

Leukemia can occur in children of any age, from infancy through adulthood; however, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is most common among children 3 to 5 years old. Acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, is the second-most common type of childhood leukemia. The rate of AML tends to rise as children get older, occurring most often in teens and young adults.

Children with certain genetic disorders, like Down syndrome, may have a higher risk for developing leukemia.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Brooke Geyer, DO

Brooke Geyer, DO

Pediatrics

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Amanda Winters, MD, PhD

Amanda Winters, MD, PhD

Hematology/Oncology - Pediatric , Pediatrics

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Emily Wheat, PhD

Emily Wheat, PhD

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Michael Verneris, MD

Michael Verneris, MD

Hematology/Oncology - Pediatric

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