Leukemia Home > Causes of Leukemia
Researchers have not yet identified the exact causes of leukemia. However, research has shown that there are certain risk factors for leukemia. While these risk factors increase a person's chances of developing the disease, they are not leukemia causes. Examples of risk factors for leukemia include being exposed to very high levels of radiation (such as those associated with an atom bomb explosion), receiving chemotherapy, and having Down syndrome.
No one knows the exact leukemia causes, 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.
Leukemia risk factors include:
- Exposure to very high levels of radiation
- Working with certain chemicals
- Receiving chemotherapy
- Having Down syndrome and 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 for diagnostic purposes exposes people to much lower levels of radiation and is not linked to leukemia.