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What causes leukaemia?

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

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Leukaemia - myDr.com.au

Find out about leukaemia, including the different types, symptoms, causes and treatments.

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Childhood Leukaemia | myVMC

Childhood leukaemias arise from cells located in the bone marrow

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Acute myeloid leukaemia - Cancer Pathways

For more information about these leukaemias and where to go for support and help call the Leukaemia Foundation on 1800 620 420 or visit www.leukaemia.org.au.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia | 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

Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma - NT.GOV.AU

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

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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

Promyelocytic Leukaemia (PML) | myVMC

Promyelocytic leukaemia is a malignancy of thebone marrow in which there is a deficiency of mature blood cells in the myeloid line of cells and an excess of immature cells called promyelocytes

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Hairy Cell Leukaemia | myVMC

Hairy Cell Leukaemia is a cancer of the bone marrow which causes the growth cancerous cells with a hairy look. Cancer may spread from the bone marrow cells.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia | myVMC

Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia is cancer that arises in bone marrow cells that generate white blood cells. It is most common in 40-50 year olds.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) | myVMC

Acute myeloid leukaemia 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

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