Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Chicana and Chicano StudiesLatino Health Issues

Latino Childhood Cancer: Leukemia


What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents. Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues. Leukemia is the result of an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell. The cell then becomes abnormal and multiplies continuously. The collection of abnormal cells interferes with the production of healthy blood cells . This can leave the body unable to protect itself against infection.

Possible Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for leukemia. Three of the most prevalent are:

1) Having a brother or sister with leukemia

2) Being white or hispanic

3) Living in the United States

Who is affected?

Children diagnosed with cancer are not the only ones affected. Friends and family are impacted greatly when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Besides the effects on children themselves, consequences arise for parents including both immediate and long term mental health problems. There is much speculation about what causes childhood cancers. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator has called for new research on air and water pollutants along with pesticides and their effects on children. Latinos have high exposure rates to all three, and seem at risk for their children developing childhood cancer.


Symptoms for leukemia are numerous. They include:

1) Infection

2) Easy bleeding or bruising

3) Bone pain

4) Swelling of the abdomen

5) Swollen lymph nodes

6) Enlargement of the thymus

7) Headache, seizures, vomiting

8) Rashes , fatigue, and weakness


Leukemia accounts for almost 1/3 of all cancer in children under age 15 and 1/4 of cancer occurring before age 20. Leukemias are the leading fatal cancer in young men and women under age 20. The five year survival rates for the two most common forms of leukemia are: 80% for ALL and 40% for AML.

Major U.S. childhood cancers: type and cases per year

All leukemias: 32,500

Acute lymphoblastic: 24,000

Brain tumors: 2,200

Hodgkins disease: 850 - 900

Non-hodgkins lymphoma: 750 - 800


Patients with leukemia are usually treated with chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs). In some instances patients may receive both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Common side effects from both forms of treatment include: loss of hair, weight gain/loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea. For severe cases of leukemia , blood and marrow transplantation is the only chance for being cured. Blood and marrow transplantation involves replacing leukemic bone marrow with healthy marrow from a compatible donor.

Treatment not only includes treating the body but also the soul. Entire families can be bogged down by the experience of a loved one having childhood cancer. It is important for families to know they are not alone and that others share their own struggle. Numerous support groups exist and many can be found on the web.


American Cancer Society | American Academy of Pediatrics | National Cancer Institute |

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society | E* Support groups | Bibliography



This site was created by Jason Sands in fulfillment of requirements for the course CSS 335: Latino Health Issues taught by Dr. Szkupinski Quiroga at Arizona State University, Spring 2005.

Accessibility | Privacy | ASU Disclaimer