Risk Factors for Leukemia

A risk factor is something about you that increases your chance of getting a disease or having a certain health condition. Some risk factors for leukemia you cannot change, but some you can. Changing the risk factors that you have control over will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Risk factors do not mean that you will get the disease. Many people who have these risk factors do not develop the disease and many who develop the disease did not have any of these risk factors.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

The risk factors for ALL are:

  • Radiation exposure – Exposure to high levels of radiation greatly increases the risk of developing ALL and AML. Exposure to low levels of radiation may increase the risk of developing leukemia.
  • Industrial exposure – Exposure to the chemical benzene may increase your risk of ALL.
  • Congenital syndromes – ALL does not seem to have a hereditary basis; however, some hereditary syndromes with genetic changes may increase your risk of developing ALL:
    • Down syndrome
    • Klinefelter syndrome
    • Neurofibromatosis
  • Race/ethnicity – ALL is more common in whites than in African Americans.
  • Gender – ALL is more common in men than in women.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

The risk factors for AML are:

  • Radiation exposure – Exposure to high levels of radiation greatly increases the risk of developing AML and ALL. Exposure to low levels of radiation may increase the risk of developing leukemia.
  • Smoking – People who smoke are at greater risk of developing AML.
  • Industrial exposure – Exposure to the chemical benzene may increase your risk of AML. Some chemotherapy drugs also increase the risk of developing AML.
  • Congenital syndromes – AML does not seem to have a hereditary basis; however, some hereditary syndromes with genetic changes may increase your risk of developing AML:
    • Down syndrome
    • Bloom syndrome
    • Fanconi anemia
  • Gender – AML is more common in men than in women.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

The risk factors for CLL are:

  • Industrial exposure – Exposure to Agent Orange and some pesticides may increase the risk of developing CLL.
  • Family history – CLL does run in some families. People with a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling, or child, diagnosed with the disease are twice as likely to get it themselves.
  • Gender – CLL is more common in men than in women.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

The risk factors for CML are:

  • Radiation exposure – Exposure to very high levels of radiation — such as from a nuclear reactor accident — greatly increases your risk of developing CML.
  • Gender – CML is slightly more common in women than in men.
  • Age – The risk for developing CML increases with age.

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