The exact causes of leukemia remain a medical mystery, but one that researchers are working tirelessly to discover. Both the Cancer Centers of America and the Mayo Clinic state that the causes of leukemia are not known. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic suspect it develops from "a combination of genetic and environmental factors."
Who's at Risk?
The reality is that leukemia can strike anyone at any age, although it is more frequently diagnosed early in children. There may be a genetic predisposition toward leukemia that combines with certain environmental factors. In some cases, environmental agents may build up over time, triggering the disease.
People with Down Syndrome and HIV are known to have a higher risk for leukemia. Other factors that may increase a person's risk include a family history of leukemia, exposure to artificial radiation, previous cancer treatments using chemotherapy and exposure to benzine, some petroleum derivatives and some hair colorings.
There are two ways leukemia can manifest: acute and chronic. Acute leukemia starts off with one or more white blood cells that have a lost or damaged DNA sequence. The cells never grow, but they can multiply. They do not die as normal cells die, but accumulate. Once the defective cells start to accumulate, they interfere with the functions of the body's organs and push out healthy cells.
Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly because the blood cells that have lost or damaged DNA are more mature. The damaged mature cells multiply, but they do this more slowly than the damaged cells in acute leukemia. The damaged cells in chronic cancer also do not die; as they accumulate, they push out healthy cells.
Until scientists figure out what actually causes leukemia, it's best to stay informed about the disease. Once causes of leukemia can be pinpointed, scientists may be able to come up with better ways to treat it.
The warning signs of leukemia vary from person to person, and often mimic other blood illnesses. Learn what to look for and how a diagnosis is made.
The history of leukemia dates back to the early 19th century, but it would take more than 100 years for doctors to find successful treatments.
There are four different types of leukemia, each with its own characteristics.