Special Report

21 Common and Controversial Blood Cancer Risk Factors

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6. Down syndrome

Most leukemias are not linked directly to any known genetic causes, but some genetic factors may increase the risk of childhood leukemia, according to the American Cancer Society. Children with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, the smallest human chromosome. Kids with the condition are significantly more likely to develop ALL or AML than are other children, whose overall risk is about 3%.

Down syndrome has also been linked to transient leukemia, also referred to as transient myeloproliferative disorder. It is a leukemia-like condition infants develop in their first month of life. It often resolves on its own.

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7. Other genetic disorders

Some inherited conditions, such as Fanconi anemia (decreased production of blood cells), Bloom syndrome (a disorder characterized by small stature and sensitivity to sunlight, ataxia-telangiectasia (difficulty coordinating movements), and Blackfan-Diamond syndrome (bone marrow failure syndrome) seem to raise the risk of AML, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome, caused by a mutation that prevents genes from functioning correctly, significantly increases the risk of developing several kinds of cancer, including leukemia, bone or soft tissue sarcomas, breast cancer, adrenal gland cancer, and brain tumors.

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8. Chromosome 21 abnormality

A rearrangement, or a mutation, of chromosome 21, has been linked to a type of blood cancer known as core binding factor acute myeloid leukemia (CBF-AML). About 7% of adults with this kind of cancer have this mutation. The change fuses part of a gene from chromosome 21 with part of a gene from chromosome 8. This type of mutation is not inherited, and how it arises is not fully understood.

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9. Smoking

Smoking has been linked to cancer for decades. It significantly increases the risk of developing certain cancers, especially lung cancer, by damaging the cells DNA and by weakening the immune system so it’s unable to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Among all the blood cancers, smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing AML.

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10. Exposure to chemicals

Long-term exposure to benzene and some petrochemicals is considered to be a risk for developing leukemia, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Benzene is often used in plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, and detergents. People can be exposed to it by breathing it in the air, from cigarette smoking, or by absorbing it through the skin.

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