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The causes of leukemia – a type of cancer that interferes with the body’s ability to produce healthy blood cells – are not yet well understood. Some theories point to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Historical data suggests that men are slightly more likely to develop the condition than women.

There is no sure-fire way to predict who will or will not be affected by leukemia. However, researchers have identified certain factors that are believed to increase an individual’s likelihood of developing this condition. Even so, it’s important to keep in mind that most people who have one or more risk factors do not develop blood cancer. Furthermore, some people who are diagnosed with leukemia have no known risk factors.

Leukemia risk factors

Some factors that are believed to increase an individual’s risk of developing leukemia are:

  • Advanced age (65 and older)
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Genetic blood disorders
  • Down syndrome
  • Family history of blood cancer
  • Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, pesticides or industrial solvents

Early-stage leukemia often goes undetected, mainly because it usually produces flu-like symptoms that are very common and usually benign. Therefore, if you have a strong family history or believe you may be at risk for any other reason, you are encouraged to speak with a physician, who may recommend regular screening (which is usually performed through periodic bloodwork). Additionally, if you experience chronic fatigue, improper blood clotting, excessive bruising or prolonged fever, you should bring your symptoms to the attention of a physician right away.

If you’d like to learn more about leukemia risk factors, you are welcome to speak with an experienced hematologic oncologist in the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, contact us at 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral.