Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that affects the blood-forming tissues such as bone marrow and lymphatic system. This affects the ability of white blood cells, which fight against infection and strengthen the immune system. In leukemia, the white blood cells divide and grow in abundance with a special protein called M-protein. These proteins overpower healthy cells and crowd them out. This causes severe health disorders which are difficult to treat.
The causes and risk factors for leukemia include the following:
1. Causes of leukemia
The exact cause of leukemia is still unknown, however, it is believed to be related to genetic and environmental factors. The ideal understanding of the cause of leukemia is the dysfunction in DNA mutation. In some conditions, these abnormal cells divide and grow rapidly to take over healthy blood cells present in the bone marrow. This reduces the presence of healthy white and red blood cells and platelets which leads to the symptoms of different types of leukemia.
2. Risk factors of leukemia
There are several risk factors associated with the cause of leukemia and some of them are more prominent when compared to others.
- Artificial ionizing radiation
If a patient has undergone radiation therapy in the past as a part of previous cancer treatment, they could be at risk of leukemia.
- Certain viruses
Individuals infected with the human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1) are at risk of leukemia.
Patients who underwent chemotherapy treatment for a previous cancer are a higher risk of the condition. This could happen when one’s lifestyle changes drastically because of and after chemotherapy and proper treatment is not taken after the recovery.
- Exposure to benzene
Benzene is a solvent often used in cleaning chemicals and hair dyes. Frequent usage and exposure to these products can lead to health issues such as leukemia.
- Some genetic conditions
Children suffering from Down’s syndrome with a third copy of chromosome 21 have a greater risk of developing two types of leukemia such as acute myeloid and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Also, children suffering from Li-Fraumeni syndrome are at risk of leukemia due to the change in TP53 gene.
- Family history
If there is a history of leukemia in the family, especially in siblings, there is a higher risk of one developing the disease. If one of the identical twins is infected with leukemia cells, there is a close possibility of the other twin having it.
- Inherited problem
Several inherited factors increase the risk of leukemia such as the Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.
- Immune suppression
Leukemia in children can occur due to suppression in their immune system. This leads to the rejection of the body’s immune cells and increases the risk of cancer during and after an organ transplant.
Other risk factors show their link to leukemia but a detailed investigation is required to confirm it. Some of the risk factors are:
- Exposure to chemicals such as gasoline, pesticides, diesel and smoke
- Exposure to electromagnetic fields
- Usage of hair dyes.
Based on the symptoms of different types of leukemia and risk factors you may have faced, your doctor will advise you to undergo a few tests to accurately diagnose the problem. Diagnosis helps in determining the stage and severity of the disease. This then helps in finalizing the treatment methods.