Leukemia is a type of white blood cell (WBC) cancer that starts in the bone marrow and gradually spreads to the blood and other organs. This medical condition is of several types and is classified generally in two ways – based on how quickly it develops (acute and chronic leukemia) and the type of blood cell that is involved (lymphocytic and myeloid leukemia). It cannot be said for certain what causes this blood cancer. However, some risk factors for leukemia have been identified and are discussed below.
- Inherited cancer syndromes
Leukemia can be caused due to inherited gene mutation. A family history of leukemia can increase the risk of it occurring in both children and adults. Also, note that most people who are suffering from leukemia do not have any family members with the same condition. Still, it is among the risk factors for leukemia.
This habit can increase the risk of getting acute myeloid leukemia (AML), as research shows that 20 percent of the AML patients are smokers. Tobacco and the other chemicals that are the ingredients of cigarettes are known contributors to the formation of cancer cells.
- Exposure to radiation therapy or chemotherapy
This is one of the important risk factors for leukemia. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can increase the risk. So, if the patient has previously received treatment for cancer, especially if it was collaborative treatment with both radiation and chemotherapy, then they are prone to develop this condition.
- Exposure to benzene and other chemicals
Exposure to certain chemicals like benzene is linked to an increased risk of some types of leukemia. Benzene, which is a chemical found in unleaded gasoline, is known to cause AML and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). A herbicide, known as Agent Orange, is known to increase the risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) too. Formaldehyde is another chemical that factory workers and embalmers are exposed to during their work. Also, exposure to formaldehyde is known to increase the risk of leukemia.
- Genetic disorders
Studies also reveal that people who are suffering from genetic ailments like Down’s syndrome, Bloom Syndrome, etc. are more susceptible to different forms of leukemia, like ALL and AML.
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
A disruption in the production of blood cells causes this syndrome, which is also known as preleukemia. Patients of this blood disorder are at a higher risk of getting AML. Apart from this syndrome, other blood disorders like polycythemia vera, idiopathic myelofibrosis, etc., can heighten the risk of AML.
- Exposure to radiation
People who get exposed to extremely high levels of radiation, like a nuclear leak, are at a higher risk of leukemia.
- Age and gender
These are the last two risk factors for leukemia on this list. While the risk of leukemia increases with age, for some forms like ALL, the median age is less than 20 years. Based on statistics, men are more likely to get leukemia than women.
So, make a note of the above risk factors for leukemia and go for regular checkups if you are prone to develop this disorder. Consult a doctor for more advice as well.