Down syndrome is a genetic disorder affecting 1 in every 700 infants. People with the condition have an increased risk of getting certain types of leukemia, a blood cancer.
An error during cell division, resulting in an extra (third) copy of chromosome 21,
Read more to learn about the link between Down syndrome and leukemia, how it is diagnosed, and more.
Leukemia occurs when there are too many immature white blood cells. In people with the disease, genetic changes cause issues with the mechanism controlling blood cell creation. This leads to an overproduction of white blood cells.
People with leukemia often have these genes on chromosome 21. Because people with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, they are
Children born with Down syndrome are 33 times more likely to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). They are also 150 times more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). These are two of the most common types of leukemia.
Children with Down syndrome are also
According to the
There is also a type of “preleukemia” known as transient leukemia (TL). This condition affects nearly 10% of newborn infants with Down syndrome.
Additionally, 1 in 5 infants with TL later develop AML. However, most infants do not develop symptoms, and the condition resolves without treatment.
Due to the increased risk of leukemia in children with Down syndrome, doctors
However, in the United States, there is
Other countries have standardized guidelines for screening. For example, health authorities in the United Kingdom
In all cases, early detection of cancer leads to the best outcomes.
Some of the symptoms to look out for include:
- having a fever or high temperature
- being more tired than usual
- getting recurrent infections
- bruising easily with no obvious cause
- developing petechiae (blood spots or rashes on the skin)
The leukemia treatment for people with Down syndrome is generally the same as the treatment for people without the condition. Usually, this means chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy works by lowering the number of blast cells (basic immature cells from which specialized cells develop) in the body.
Other available treatment types
- stem cell transplant
It is important to note that people with Down syndrome may experience
The cure rate for all children with AML is around 75%. In children with Down syndrome who have AMKL, the cure rate is 80% to 100%. This is significantly higher than the 35% in children who do not have Down syndrome.
However, the cure rate for ALL in children with Down syndrome is 60–70%, slightly lower than the general population’s 75–85%. According to Leukemia Care, this may be because children with Down syndrome are more prone to infections and may react poorly to chemotherapy.
While recovery rates are generally high, doctors should closely monitor children with Down syndrome who have recovered from leukemia. This is because they have been shown to have a higher relapse rate than children who do not have the condition.
Living with cancer can be a huge emotional challenge for both an individual and their family.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offers a range of support resources and information about organizations that can provide support to families. These include:
Children with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of developing leukemia due to an extra copy of chromosome 21. There is a higher cure rate for this group than for the general population for AML. However, the cure rate for ALL is slightly lower.
Infants with Down syndrome should receive regular checkups to monitor their status, as early detection is the best way to improve outcomes.