Washington: Parents go to any limit to protect their little ones from germs! A new study, however, has highlighted that a childhood free from germs followed by infections later in life makes children prone to childhood leukemia.
This happens because of the fact that when a child is exposed to infection in their first year, their immune system gets strong.
Published in the journal ‘Nature Reviews Cancer’, the study finds that acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer, is caused by a two-step process.
The first step is a genetic mutation before birth that predisposes a child to the risk of developing this form of leukemia.
On the other hand, the second step is exposure to certain infections later in childhood, after clean early childhoods that limited exposure to infections.
To put it simply, the researchers explained that kids who lived in very clean, germ-free conditions during their first years and had less interaction with other children are prone to lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of blood cancer most oftenly diagnosed in children between the ages 0 to 4 years.
It develops quickly, over days or weeks, building up in the blood and spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver and nervous system.
“The research strongly suggests that (this cancer) has a clear biological cause, and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed,” said Prof. Mel Greaves study author.
Greaves added that the study “busts some persistent myths about the causes of leukemia, such as the damaging but unsubstantiated claims that the disease is commonly caused by exposure to electro-magnetic waves or pollution.”
“Preventing childhood leukemia would have a huge impact on the lives of children and their families in the UK and across the globe,” said Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London.
“It’s also important to remember that infections themselves can pose a significant risk for young babies with a developing immune system,” said Sheena Cruickshank, British society for Immunology.