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Risk Factors for Leukemia

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer.

It is possible to develop leukemia with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing leukemia. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your health care provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for leukemia include the following:

Environmental and Chemical Factors

People exposed to the chemical benzene, certain chemotherapy drugs, or radiation are more likely to develop leukemia than those who have not had similar exposure. Researchers are still investigating these associations. The exposures may trigger changes to the genes that later lead to cancer. However, the direct mechanisms of how these agents cause leukemia is not yet known.

Genetic Factors

Down syndrome is considered to be a risk factor for leukemia and newborns with this syndrome may have transient leukemia in the newborn period that resolves. These children are also 10 to 30 times more likely than average to develop leukemia in childhood, often by the age of 5.

Having a parent, sibling, or chid with chronic leukemia may increase your chance of developing the disease. However, leukemia is not considered an inherited disease.

Smoking

Smokers over age 60 are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop acute myeloid leukemia. About 20% of adult leukemias may be attributed to tobacco use. Cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco enter the blood stream and can increase the risk of malignancy.

Ethnicity

Caucasians are more likely than African Americans to develop acute leukemia. The reason for this is unknown.

Sources:

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Bast R, et al. Cancer Medicine e5 . Hamilton, Ontario: B.C. Decker Inc.; 2000.



Last reviewed February 2003 by John Erban, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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