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The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

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Leukemia Risk Factors

Doctors aren’t completely sure why some people get leukemias and others do not, though males are more likely to be affected than females, and Caucasians are more likely to be affected than African-Americans. Up to 70 percent of cases are diagnosed in patients ages 50 and older. In rare cases, patients may have a family history of leukemias. The National Cancer Institute suggests a few potential risk factors:

  • Benzene

Exposure to the chemical compound benzene in the workplace can cause acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Benzene is used widely in the chemical industry and is found in cigarette smoke and gasoline.

  • Chemotherapy

Cancer patients treated with certain types of cancer-fighting drugs have a small chance of getting acute myeloid leukemia or acute lymphocytic leukemia.

  • Radiation

People exposed to very high levels of radiation, such as through medical treatment for cancer and other conditions, or surviving atomic bomb explosions, are more likely to get acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia).

  • Inherited diseases

Down syndrome and certain other inherited diseases increase the risk of developing acute leukemia.