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Wednesday, Apr 14th

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Home Cancer Leukemia Physical Factors Responsible for Leukemia

Physical Factors Responsible for Leukemia

The most common chemical exposure linked to leukemia is probably cigarette smoking, which has been shown to be a significant risk factor for Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

It has been estimated that as many as a quarter of all cases may be caused by smoking. Benzene in high concentrations is known to cause leukemia and it is possible that other similar organic chemicals may increase the risk of leukemia and related diseases.

There are very small amounts of benzene present in unleaded petrol but this is not considered high enough to be a leukemia risk. In some groups of workers, for example farmers and agricultural workers, there appears to be an increased risk of certain conditions, for example Myeloma and Lymphoma. This may be related to chemical exposures but there are other possible explanations.

Ionizing Radiation
Ionizing radiation is the term used for the kind of radiation emitted by X–ray machines or by radioactive materials. High doses of radiation can definitely increase the risk of leukemia and related diseases. This was shown by the atomic bomb survivors and by the experience of other people accidentally exposed to high levels of radiation. Most experts believe it is extremely unlikely that very low levels of radiation can cause leukemia or related diseases.

Some years ago, it was reported that children who had been exposed to medical X–rays before birth were more likely to develop leukemia. The introduction of ultrasound has virtually eliminated the need to use X–rays during pregnancy. Modern X–ray machines deliver a much smaller dose and on the very rare occasions when a pregnant woman needs to be X–rayed special precautions are taken to reduce the risk even further.

Non–Ionizing Radiation
Some studies have suggested that there appears to be an increased risk of leukemia in children who live near electrical power–lines or other electrical facilities. It is suggested that Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) may be capable of either causing leukemia or accelerating the development of the condition. These studies have relied on very small numbers of cases and on estimates of the strength of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

The majority of published reports have concluded that it is very unlikely that there is any increase in the risk of leukemia as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields. The peak in the number of childhood cases between two and five years of age cannot be explained by this theory. The use of electricity has increased enormously over the last twenty to thirty years whilst the rate of childhood leukemia has remained relatively constant.

Secondary Leukemia
Some forms of leukemia and related diseases are seen more often than is usual in patients who have received intensive therapy with anti–cancer drugs. This is known as secondary leukemia. The most common conditions seen in this group of patients are acute Myeloid Leukemia and Myelo–dysplastic syndrome. It is important to understand that only a very small percentage of cancer patients go on to develop leukemia or a related condition as a result of their treatment. Unfortunately, these secondary malignancies are often more resistant to drug treatment and may be very difficult to treat.


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