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When discussing common risk factors associated with leukemia and other cancers, it is important to understand that a risk factor is only something that indicates the potential for an increased risk of developing the condition. There is no way to accurately predict who will or won’t develop leukemia in their lifetime. However, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of the most common contributing factors that can make a person more susceptible to the disease so that individuals at risk can be proactive about living a healthy lifestyle and vigilant of signs and symptoms.

While risk factors vary depending on the specific type of leukemia, some of the most common include:

  • Age – Generally speaking, individuals over the age of 65 are more at risk for leukemia.
  • Demographics – While anyone can conceivably develop leukemia, white males are statistically most susceptible
  • Radiation exposure – Exposure to radiation from an atomic bomb increases the likelihood that leukemia cells will form
  • Previous cancer treatment – Patients who have received chemotherapy or radiation therapy are more likely to develop leukemia
  • Genetic disorders – Blood disorders and Down syndrome increase the chances for leukemia cell formation
  • Family history of leukemia – Genetic predisposition is a strong risk factor for leukemia
  • Other environmental factors – There is some evidence to suggest that tobacco smoke, pesticides and industrial solvents could potentially lead to leukemia

If you believe you are at risk for leukemia – particularly if you have a strong family history of the disease – it is important to speak with your physician. Often, leukemia can go undetected in its early stages, and the only way to identify it is through regular blood work. Furthermore, if you begin to experience chronic fatigue, bleeding that doesn’t clot, a susceptibility to bruising or a prolonged fever, it is a good idea to visit your physician.

Medically reviewed by Chetasi Talati, MD, Malignant Hematology.

In the event that you are diagnosed with leukemia, the team at Moffitt Cancer Center’s Malignant Hematology Program can help develop a customized treatment plan for your specific condition. We offer a number of innovative treatments and have been recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center due to our highly advanced treatments, breakthrough research and clinical trials. To learn more, call 1-888-663-3488 or schedule an appointment online. No referral is needed to speak with our oncologists specializing in leukemia.


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