Possible causes of leukemia
At this time, we do not know what causes leukemia. Researchers are trying to solve this problem. Scientists know that leukemia occurs in males more often than in females. It occurs in white people more often than in black people. However, they cannot explain why one person gets leukemia and another does not. Researchers have found certain risk factors that increase a person's risk of getting leukemia.
Exposure to large amounts of high-energy radiation increases the risk of getting leukemia. Such radiation was produced by the atomic bomb explosions in Japan during World War II. In nuclear power plants, strict safety rules protect workers and the public from exposure to harmful amounts of radiation.
Some research suggests that exposure to electromagnetic fields is a possible risk factor for leukemia. (Electromagnetic fields are a type of low-energy radiation that comes from power lines and electric appliances.) However, more studies are needed to prove this link.
Certain genetic conditions can increase the risk for leukemia. One such condition is Down syndrome . Children born with this syndrome are more likely to get leukemia than other children.
Exposure to chemicals
Workers exposed to certain chemicals over a long period of time are at higher risk for leukemia. Benzene is one of these chemicals. Also, some of the drugs used to treat other types of cancer may increase a person's risk of getting leukemia. However, this risk is very small when compared with the benefits of chemotherapy.
Scientists have identified a virus that seems to increase the risk for one very uncommon type of leukemia. However, this virus has no known association with common forms of leukemia. Scientists throughout the world continue to study viruses and other possible risk factors for leukemia. By learning what causes this disease, researchers hope to better understand how to prevent and treat it.
The National Cancer Institute, May 2001
Last reviewed May 2001 by
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