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The scientific community is still studying exactly what causes leukemia, as well as what may increase the likelihood of developing this type of cancer. With that said, exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation appears to elevate the risk of developing certain types of leukemia in both adults and children. Stronger than non-ionizing radiation, ionizing radiation is capable of removing an electron from the nucleus of an atom. Researchers believe that ionizing radiation - which is present in ultraviolet (UV) rays, X-rays, nuclear power and radon - can damage cell DNA and lead to cancer growth.

Other environmental risk factors for leukemia

In addition to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation, exposure to the following environmental factors may increase the risk of developing leukemia:

  • Certain chemotherapy drugs
  • Petrochemicals (such as benzene)
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Certain hair dyes

Notably, a mother's exposure to pesticides and other chemicals while pregnant may increase her child's chances of developing acute lymphocytic leukemia. Exposure to these chemicals during early childhood can also increase the risk of developing leukemia.

Leukemia treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may have leukemia, you can rely on Moffitt Cancer Center for a diagnosis and treatment. The multispecialty team in our Malignant Hematology Program uses state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques and works together to develop individualized treatment plans. Our leadership in innovative leukemia treatments and clinical trials is just one reason why the National Cancer Institute has recognized us as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Contact Moffitt Cancer Center today to request a consultation - you can call us at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We’ll be happy to tell you more about the environmental risk factors for leukemia and answer any questions you might have.