Leukemia Prevention: Reducing the Risk

Can Leukemia be Prevented?

Leukemia blood cells
Leukemia blood cells. Science Photo Library - STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells and there are no proven methods for prevention. There are some risk factors that can be avoided that may aid in leukemia risk reduction, but unfortunately, scientists have yet to identify real, known causes and risk factors for all of the different leukemia types. Most cases of leukemia cannot be prevented.

Factors Increasing the Risk of Leukemia 

Researchers have been able to identify a few risk factors for certain types of leukemia:

  • Cigarette Smoking
    Smoking puts you at risk for many types of cancer, including Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). 1 in every 4 cases of AML is linked to smoking. The carcinogens in cigarettes are absorbed by the lungs and then travel to the bloodstream. 
  • Exposure to Certain Chemicals
    Benzene is a chemical byproduct of coal and petroleum. It is used mainly in gasoline, however it is contained in other things such as paints, solvents, plastics, pesticides and detergents. People who work in the manufacturing of these products may be putting themselves at risk for leukemia.
  • Previous Chemotherapy or Radiation Treatment
    People who have been treated for other types of cancer with chemotherapy and radiation therapy have a slightly increased risk factor for developing leukemia.
  • Exposure to Atomic Bomb Radiation
    An example of this type of exposure would be Chernobyl, or the bombings in Japan in World War II.

    Unfortunately, there are other risk factors for leukemia that are not as easily avoided, such as:

    • Age
      60% to 70% of cases of leukemia are diagnosed in patients ages 50 years and over
    • Family History
      First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) of people with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) have more than twice the risk for this cancer.
    • Being Male
      Some types of leukemia are more common in males than females. The reason is unknown.
    • Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus
      The Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus is a type of virus that infects T cells (a type of white blood cell) and can cause leukemia and lymphoma. HTLV-1 is spread by sharing syringes or needles used to inject drugs, through blood transfusions, through sexual contact, and from mother to child at birth or through breast-feeding.
    • Myelodysplasctic Syndrome
      Myelodysplasctic syndrome is a blood disease that puts people at a higher risk for developing AML.
    • Down Syndrome
      People with Down Syndrome are also at a higher risk for developing leukemia. 

    Precautions You Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Cancer

    Leukemia is a cancer of the early blood-forming cells, particularly the white blood cells (though some leukemias start in other blood cell types) which are a vital part of your immune system. White blood cells protect the body from invasion by bacteria, viruses, and fungi, as well as from abnormal cells and other foreign substances.

    Leukemia affects the function of the white blood cells, compromising the immune system and leading to the multiplication of cancer cells.

    Even though there are no proven prevention methods for leukemia, researchers suggest following the general recommendations for cancer prevention, which are:

    • Quit smoking
    • Follow a healthy diet
    • Exercise
    • Avoid exposure to certain chemicals (i.e. benzene, cigarette smoke, gasoline and motor vehicle exhaust, and some glues, cleaning products, detergents, art supplies, and paints)
    • Avoid exposure to radiation
    • Get regular medical care

    Sources:

    American Cancer Society. Leukemia Causes and Risk Factors. Accessed Feb 10, 2016.

    National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About Leukemia. Accessed Feb 10, 2016.

    American Institute for Cancer Research. Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. Accessed Feb 10, 2016.

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