Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

What causes leukaemia?

1-minute read

Doctors are not sure what causes leukaemia. It is likely that abnormal genes play a part. One type of leukaemia, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), is often caused by an abnormal chromosome.It is also likely that a person's chances of getting leukaemia are affected by where they live, where they work, what they eat and more.

In acute lymphoblastic; leukaemia (ALL), it's thought that the response of the immune system to certain infections may affect development in some people.

Risk factors for leukaemia

While the exact causes of leukaemia are unclear, some things are known to increase the risk of developing leukaemia. These are called 'risk factors' and include:

  • smoking tobacco
  • exposure to high levels of radiation, for example from an atomic bomb
  • exposure to certain chemicals, for example benzene
  • previous cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • having certain genetic disorders, for example Down syndrome
  • certain viral infections, for example human T-cell leukaemia virus
  • a personal history of blood disorders, for example myelodysplastic syndrome
  • having someone with leukaemia in the family.

You can lower your risk of getting cancer by eating well, exercising regularly, giving up smoking and cutting back on alcohol. But in many cases, there is no known way to prevent leukaemia.

Last reviewed: April 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL)

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) Home / Cancer & Blood Disorders / What is Cancer? / Leukaemia / Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Around 80% of leukaemias in children are Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemias and can be classified as standard risk, medium risk, high risk or very high risk

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) Home / Cancer & Blood Disorders / What is Cancer? / Leukaemia / Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) There are a number of sub-types of AML, dependent on which particular white cell has become cancerous (this will be determined through a bone marrow biopsy): Acute Monocytic Leukaemia Acute Myelocytic Leukaemia Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APML) Acute Megakaryocytic Leukaemia Signs and symptoms of AML include: Bruising and bleeding Tiredness Pallor Bone pain Fever Enlarged liver, spleen, lymph nodes AML can particularly affect the bloods clotting system, further increasing the risk of bleeding (this is a particular problem in APML) Children with AML have a high risk of infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Leukaemia - Cancer Council Australia

Find out information about leukaemia (or leukemias - U.S. spelling) from Australia's most trusted cancer control organisation.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma - NT.GOV.AU

Prevention, symptoms and treatment for leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Read more on NT Health website

Childhood leukaemia cancer information | myVMC

Childhood leukaemia refers to cancers of the stem cells of bone marrow which occur in childhood. They account for 35% of all childhood cancers.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Leukaemia | Cancer Australia Children's Cancers

Leukaemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells (lymphocytes), which are part of the bodys immune system to fight infections. Find out more on leukaemia, including the types, risk factors, symptoms and treatment

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia - Information & Support - CanTeen

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) is the most common type of leukaemia, but only develops gradually. Learn more about causes and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Leukaemia - Information, Treatment & Support - CanTeen

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, which are made in the bone marrow. Learn more about causes, diagnosis and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Myeloid leukaemia (childhood bone marrow cancer) | myVMC

Acute myeloid leukaemia is a cancer that arises in the precursors of myeloid cells in bone marrow. In normal circumstances, these form white blood cells.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL cancer) information | myVMC

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is a type of bone marrow cancer which disrupts the normal balance of red and white blood cells and platelets.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo