Causes and Risk Factors

No one knows the exact cause of this disease, and doctors can seldom explain why one person will get it and another person will not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop the disease (a risk factor is anything that increases a person's chances of developing a disease).
Risk factors include:
  • Exposure to very high levels of radiation
  • Working with certain chemicals
  • Receiving chemotherapy
  • Having Down syndrome or other genetic conditions
  • Having human T-cell leukemia virus-1 (HTLV-1)
  • Having myelodysplastic syndrome.
(Click Leukemia Risk Factors to learn more about the risk factors for this disease.)


Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients may have a number of symptoms.
Common symptoms may include:
  • Fevers or night sweats
  • Frequent infections
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Headache
  • Pain in the bones or joints
  • Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen)
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding and bruising easily (e.g., bleeding gums, purplish patches in the skin, or tiny red spots under the skin).
It is important to note that these symptoms are not sure signs of this illness. An infection or another problem could also cause these symptoms. People who have symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible -- only a doctor can make a diagnosis and treat the problem.
(Click Leukemia Symptoms for more information about these symptoms.)
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Leukemia Information

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