Radiation


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Exposure to powerful radiation can significantly increase the risk of leukemia IF the radiation is strong enough to penetrate the skin/tissue and reach the bone marrow. Significant exposure to harmful radiation can occur doe to high sun exposure, tanning, handling of radioactive chemicals, or a variety of other factors. Radiation exposure during diagnosis (X-rays) is too weak to reach the bone marrow, and is thus NOT considered a significant risk factor.
Exposure to various herbicides, such as DDT or Agent Orange, has been linked to an increased risk of leukemia - as well as several other known diseases. Some studies suggest that farming and long-term exposure to pesticides may be linked to an increased risk of leukemia as well. Contact a doctor if you have sustained exposure to any of the aforementioned pesticides or herbicides.

Chemotherapy


Various chemotherapy drugs. Some of these drugs, known as alkylating agents, are risk factors for developing leukemia due to their tendency to accumulate in the bone marrow of long-term patients.
Various chemotherapy drugs. Some of these drugs, known as alkylating agents, are risk factors for developing leukemia due to their tendency to accumulate in the bone marrow of long-term patients.

Cancer patients treated with anti-cancer drugs during chemotherapy have a higher-than-normal chance of developing leukemia during their remission period. Certain chemotherapy drugs (known as alkylating agents) kill cancer cells very quickly but tend to build up in the bone marrow, increasing the chance of developing abnormal cancer cells there years later. In addition, the violent suppression of the body's immune system by chemotherapy drugs leave the body's T-cells less adept at finding and destroying abnormal cells before they develop into potentially cancerous tumors.

Human T-lymphotropic Virus 1


A color-enhanced image of HTLV-1, a retrovirus. The image was produced with a standard electron tunnel microscope.
A color-enhanced image of HTLV-1, a retrovirus. The image was produced with a standard electron tunnel microscope.
HTLV-1 is a rare virus that enormously increases the chance of developing a type of leukemia or lymphoma if contracted. Adult leukemia is a very common complication of an HTLV-1 infection, and requires aggressive chemotherapy in order to be curbed. Approximately 15-20% of HTLV-1 patients develop leukemia in their lifetime. Of this figure, over 60% are adults.
HTLV-1 is related to HIV, and is transmitted in the same fashion: via blood/bodily fluids, unprotected sex, and improperly sterilized drug needles. Symptoms of HTLV-1 include a drastic loss of motor control and neurological dysfunction. HTLV-1 is an immunosuppresant disease, and uses the body's natural feedback mechanisms to limit production of killer T-cells by the body's immune system. T-cells are primarily responsible for killing and digesting infected and abnormal/cancerous body cells. As a a result, an HTLV-1 infection greatly increases the risk of leukemia contraction.

Other risk factors...


  • Family history - First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) of leukemia patients have an increased risk for contracting leukemia, due to a chromosomal defect that leaves people highly at risk for developing leukemia. This chromosomal defect may be passed on to a person's offspring.

  • Gender - Leukemia is slightly more common in men than women, although the reasons for this are not known. The difference may be statistically insignificant, but as of yet no definitive, concrete proof has been found to support either conclusion.

  • Race/ethnicity - Leukemia is more commonly diagnosed in Caucasians than in any other ethnic group. Africans and African-Americans are the second-largest ethnic group at risk, followed by South/Eastern Asians. American Indian and Alaskan populations are least affected by leukemia.