Leukemia Risk Factors

Researchers have identified risk factors that increase a person's likelihood of developing leukemia. These include such things as exposure to very high levels of radiation, working with certain chemicals, and undergoing chemotherapy. Other risk factors include having Down syndrome (or other genetic conditions).

An Introduction to Leukemia Risk Factors

No one knows the exact causes of leukemia, and doctors can seldom explain why one person will get this disease and another person will not. However, leukemia research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop leukemia. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.
Risk factors for leukemia 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.
Exposure to Very High Levels of Radiation
People who are exposed to very high levels of radiation are much more likely than others to develop leukemia.
Very high levels of radiation can be caused by:
  • Atomic bomb explosions (such as those in Japan during World War II)
  • Nuclear power plant accidents (such as the Chernobyl accident in 1986)
  • Medical treatment that uses radiation.
However, radiation that is used to make a diagnosis exposes people to much lower levels of radiation and is not linked to leukemia.
Working With Certain Chemicals
People who work with chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde may be at a greater risk of developing leukemia. Both benzene and formaldehyde are used by the chemical industry.
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Leukemia Information

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