What causes leukaemia?

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In most cases of leukaemia there is no obvious cause. However, it is important to understand that:

  • Leukaemia is not a condition which can be caught from someone else (contagious)
  • Leukaemia is not passed on from a parent to a child (inherited)

Risk factors:

  • Age – most forms of leukaemia are more common in older people. Two thirds of leukaemia’s will be diagnosed in people aged 65 and over. The main exception to this is ALL in which peak incidence is in children.
  • Genetics – although leukaemia is not an inherited disease, there is a slightly higher chance that close relatives of patients may develop some forms of leukaemia. The risk is still very small and there is no cause for anxiety or for screening tests
  • Chemical exposure – being exposed to some chemicals and high levels of radiation may increase the chance of developing leukaemia. These factors account for only a very small proportion of all cases
  • Some forms of leukaemia are seen more commonly in people who have other bone marrow disorders. The most common disorders which behave in this way are myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and the myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN)
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