Hispanic children are more likely than those from other racial and ethnic backgrounds to be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and are more likely to die of their disease. Work led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists has pinpointed genetic factors behind the grim statistics.
“For years we have known about ethnic and racial disparities in ALL risk and outcome, but the biology behind it has been elusive. 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, “aid Jun Yang, Ph.D., an assistant member of the St. Jude Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the paper’s corresponding author.
Each year ALL is found in about 3,000 U.S. children, making it the most common childhood cancer. The incidence varies by self-declared race and ethnicity with rates for Hispanic individuals 50 percent higher than for non-Hispanic white individuals. For this study, researchers used genetic variations rather than individual self-report to define ancestry. White children were defined as having greater than 95 percent European ancestry and Hispanics children as having greater than 10 percent Native American ancestry.
Although the work of St. Jude researchers and others is helping to close the survival gap, Hispanic children are still less likely than children from other racial or ethnic backgrounds to be alive five years after diagnosis.