Understanding Leukemia Risk Factors and Causes in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey
While leukemia can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, some individuals exhibit characteristics that increase their risk. For physicians, understanding these risk factors helps them interpret symptoms and provide earlier diagnosis. And your awareness of the major risk factors – listed below by Regional Cancer Care Associates – can alert you to seek adequate medical care to achieve the best outcome possible.
The Patient’s Age
Age is one of the most important factors in determining risk for leukemia. Almost all forms of leukemia, especially chronic forms, are more likely to develop later in a person’s life. Most patients with leukemia are older than age 65, and leukemia rarely develops in people younger than age 45.
Acute leukemias, however, are more common in children than adults. This is especially true of acute lymphocytic leukemia, which accounts for about three out of four childhood leukemia diagnoses. Risk peaks at age 2 to 5 years, then again during the teenage years.
Gender and Ethnicity
Gender and ethnic demographics are also significant factors in leukemia risk. Most types of leukemia are slightly more common in men than in women, though the reason is still unknown. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is also more common in North American and European Caucasians. Asians are not more likely to develop leukemia in the United States than in Asia, suggesting that the risk may be genetic rather than environmental.
Certain cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals increase a person’s risk of developing any form of cancer, but they especially heighten the risk of leukemia. An extended or large amount of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals usually is necessary to pose a problem, but anyone with other risk factors should be especially careful about:
- Radiation: Leukemia has been connected to high levels of radiation, such as exposure to a nuclear reactor accident or working in an atomic weapons plant.
- Cancer therapies: Certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can increase a patient’s chances of developing some types of leukemia later in life.
- Benzene: Frequent workplace exposure to benzene – a chemical used in the gasoline, plastic, synthetic fiber, and rubber industries – has been tied to leukemia.
- Cigarette smoke: Cigarettes contain dozens of chemicals that increase a smoker’s risk for all kinds of cancer, including most forms of leukemia.
Family and Genetics
Like many cancers, leukemia is caused by a genetic mutation or anomaly. Certain individuals are more genetically prone to these anomalies than others, meaning that some forms of leukemia can run in families. Having a first-degree relative – a parent, child, or sibling – with chronic lymphocytic leukemia increases your risk of contracting the disease twofold to fourfold, compared with the general population. The same is true of acute myeloid leukemia, though to a lesser extent.
Some genetic and congenital disorders may also put patients at greater risk. Down syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, and Bloom syndrome all can increase an individual’s chances of developing acute leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia has also been linked to certain blood disorders, including myelodysplastic syndromes.
Understanding Leukemia Causes at Regional Cancer Care Associates
Understanding risk factors is essential to developing a deeper understanding of leukemia and how to treat it. If you have questions about your risk factors or have recently been diagnosed with leukemia, contact Regional Cancer Care Associates today. We serve patients throughout Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey at 31 convenient locations, making it easy to find the highest quality of care close to home.