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Risk Factors for Leukemia

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop leukemia with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing leukemia. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for leukemia include:

People exposed to the chemical benzene, some chemotherapy drugs, or high doses of radiation are more likely to develop leukemia than those who have not had similar exposure. Rarely, cases of leukemia may result from prior treatment with chemotherapeutic drugs. Patients who have been treated with chemotherapy or who are on immunosuppressive drugs for transplants are also at increased risk for developing leukemia.

Down syndrome is considered to be a risk factor for leukemia. Other risk factors include Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome , Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, neurofibromatosis, and Fanconi anemia. People who have an identical twin who develops leukemia are more likely to develop it themselves.

Current or past smoking is strongly associated with acute myeloid leukemia. Risk is compounded by how much you smoked and for how long.

Revision Information

  • American Cancer Society website. Available at:

  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:

  • National Cancer Institute website. Available at:

  • 8/26/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Fircanis S, Merriam P, et al. The relation between cigarette smoking and risk of acute myeloid leukemia: An updated meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Am J Hematol. 2014;89(8):E125-E132.

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