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Risk Factors

Unfortunately, most cases of leukemia cannot be prevented, because there is no known causes of lymphoma. There are only possible risk factors.

A risk factor is something that increases a person's chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person's age, can't be changed. But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have any known risk factors. Even if a person has a risk factor and gets cancer, it is often very hard to know how much that risk factor may have contributed to the cancer.

Risk factors for acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Smoking
Smoking is a proven risk factor for AML. Many people know that smoking is linked to cancers of the lungs, mouth, and throat. But few know that it can also affect cells that do not come into direct contact with smoke. Cancer-causing substances in tobacco smoke get into the bloodstream and spread to many parts of the body.

Chemicals
Exposure to certain chemicals has been linked to acute leukemia. For instance, long-term exposure to high levels of benzene is a risk factor for AML.

Cancer treatment
Patients with other cancers who are treated with certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to develop AML. Using these drugs along with radiation treatment further increases the risk.

Radiation
Exposure to a high dose of radiation is a risk factor for AML. The risk of leukemia from lower levels of radiation, such as from radiation treatment, x-rays, or CT scans, is not clear. It is not clear how much the increase might be, but to be safe, most doctors try to limit a person's exposure to radiation as much as possible.

Certain blood problems
Patients with certain blood problems such as polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, idiopathic myelofibrosis, and myelodysplastic syndrome seem to be at a higher risk for getting AML. Some people with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML -- another type of leukemia) later develop a form of AML.

Congenital (present at birth) syndromes
AML does not appear to be an inherited disease. There are some syndromes with genetic changes that seem to raise the risk of AML. These include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Fanconi anemia
  • Bloom syndrome
  • Ataxia-telangiectasia
  • Blackfan-Diamond syndrome
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Neurofibromatosis I
  • Kostmann Syndrome

Family history
Although most cases of AML are not thought to have a strong genetic link, having a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) with AML increases your risk of getting the disease. Someone who has an identical twin who had AML before the age of one year has a very strong risk of also getting AML.

Gender
AML is more common in males than in females. The reasons for this are not clear.

Source: American Cancer Society - What are the risk factors for acute myeloid leukemia?

Risk factors for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Most people with acute lymphocytic leukemia don't have any known risk factors, there is no way to prevent acute lymphocytic leukemia at this time.

There are only a few known risk factors for ALL: Radiation
Exposure to a high dose of radiation is a risk factor for ALL. The risk of leukemia from lower levels of radiation, such as from radiation treatment, x-rays, or CT scans, is not clear. It is also not clear how much the exposure of a fetus to radiation within the first months of development might increase the risk of leukemia. If there is a higher risk from lower levels it is likely to be small, but to be safe, most doctors try to limit a person's exposure to radiation as much as possible.

Chemicals
The risk of ALL may be increased by exposure to certain chemicals like benzene and certain chemotherapy drugs. Chemical exposure is more strongly linked to an increased risk of AML than to ALL.

Certain viral infections
Infection with a virus called HTLV-1 can cause a rare type of ALL. But this disease is not common in the United States.

The virus that causes "mono" (mononucleosis) is called Epstein Barr Virus or EBV. In Africa it has also been linked to a form of ALL.

Inherited syndromes
ALL does not seem to run in families, so a person's risk is not increased if a family member has the disease. But there are some inherited syndromes that seem to raise the risk of ALL. A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that together point to a certain disorder or disease. These include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Klinefelter syndrome
  • Fanconi anemia
  • Bloom syndrome
  • Ataxia-telangiectasia
  • Neurofibromatosis

Race/ethnicity
ALL is more common in whites than in African Americans, but the reasons for this are not clear.

Gender
ALL is slightly more common in males than in females. The reason for this is unknown.

Identical twin with ALL
Having an identical twin with ALL is a risk factor for ALL. This risk is mostly in the first year of life.

Source: American Cancer Society - What are the risk factors for acute lymphocytic leukemia?

Risk factors for chronic myeloid leukemia

There are no other proven risk factors for CML.

Most cases of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) have no clear cause and there is no way to prevent them. Many types of cancer can be prevented by lifestyle changes to avoid certain risk factors, but this is not true for most cases of CML.

Source: American Cancer Society - Can chronic myeloid leukemia be prevented?

Risk factors for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Many types of cancer can be prevented by lifestyle changes to avoid certain risk factors, but there are very few known risk factors for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and most of these cannot be avoided. Most CLL patients have no known risk factors, so there is no way to prevent these cancers.

There are very few known risk factors for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Certain chemical exposures
Some studies have linked exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War, to an increased risk of CLL.

Family history
First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) of CLL patients have more than twice the risk for this cancer.

Gender
CLL is slightly more common in males than females, but the reasons for this are not known.

Race/ethnicity
CLL is more common in North America and Europe than in Asia. Most experts think this is related to genetic differences rather than environmental factors because people keep the same risk even when they move from one area to another.

Source: American Cancer Society - What are the risk factors for chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

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