Leukemia causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Causes

Suspected Causes

There is no single known cause for all of the different types of leukemia. The different leukemias likely have different causes, and very little is certain about what causes them. Researchers have strong suspicions about four possible causes:

  • Natural or artificial ionizing radiation
  • Certain kinds of chemicals
  • Some viruses
  • Genetic predispositions

Leukemia, like other cancers, result from somatic mutations in the DNA which activate oncogenes or deactivate tumor suppressor genes, and disrupt the regulation of cell death, differentiation or division. These mutations may occur spontaneously or as a result of exposure to radiation or carcinogenic substances and are likely to be influenced by genetic factors. Cohort and case-control studies have linked exposure to petrochemicals, such as benzene, and hair dyes to the development of some forms of leukemia.

Viruses have also been linked to some forms of leukemia. For example, certain cases of ALL are associated with viral infections by either the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, responsible for AIDS) or human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1 and -2, causing adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma).

Fanconi anemia is also a risk factor for developing acute myelogenous leukemia.

Until the cause or causes of leukemia are found, there is no way to prevent the disease. Even when the causes become known, they may prove to be things which are not readily controllable, such as naturally occurring background radiation, and therefore not especially helpful for prevention purposes.

References


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