The cause of leukemia isn’t clear in most cases.
Unfortunately, without a cause or causes that can be pinpointed, there are no clear ways to prevent leukemia. This is true for both children and adults. More than 60,000 cases of leukemia are diagnosed in the United States each year.
But there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. Reducing your risk doesn’t mean that’s impossible for you to get leukemia, but it does make it less likely. Plus, many of the best ways to reduce your risk are also good tips for your overall health.
In this article, we’ll cover some tips that may make it less likely for you to get leukemia, as well as risk factors, causes, and more.
You might have seen claims that certain foods, supplements, or other products can reduce your risk of cancer. While that might sound tempting, you should know that most of those claims aren’t backed up by enough scientific research.
There are a few foods with some evidence that they might prevent some cancers. Most of these foods a healthy addition to any diet, so trying them certainly can’t hurt.
Until more research is done that finds specific ways to prevent leukemia, the best method is to reduce the risk factors you can control.
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of leukemia. These steps can also reduce your risk of other types of cancer. They include:
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of multiple types of cancer, including leukemia. Never smoking or quitting smoking will lower your risk of leukemia.
- Maintain a moderate weight. Having obesity is another risk for leukemia that you can control. Taking steps to keep a moderate weight can reduce your risk of leukemia. You can start by developing a balanced diet and making physical activity part of your everyday life.
- Avoid breathing in certain chemicals. The chemicals benzene and formaldehyde are known to increase your risk of leukemia. These chemicals can be found in some workplaces and buildings. If possible, avoiding these chemicals can lower your risk of leukemia.
These prevention tips can be used to reduce your risk of both types of acute leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Keep in mind that reducing your risk doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed not to get leukemia, but it does mean your chances are lowered.
There are few known risk factors for leukemia. You can’t control every risk factor for leukemia, but there are a few you can control with lifestyle changes. Risk factors you may have some control over include smoking and exposure to environmental chemicals.
Risk factors you can’t control include:
- Your age: Leukemia is most common in children, and in adults over 50.
- Your gender: Leukemia is slightly more common in men than women.
- Your genes: Leukemia doesn’t always run in families. But the chromosomal mutations that are thought to lead to leukemia might be inherited in some cases. You’re more likely to get leukemia if you have a close relative, like a sibling or parent, who’s had leukemia.
- Previous cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radiation: You’re at an increased risk for leukemia if you’ve been treated with chemotherapy or radiation in the past. The full risks of radiation are still being studied.
- Treatment with immune-suppressing drugs: Drugs that suppress your immune system, like the medication prescribed to organ transplant patients, can increase your leukemia risk.
- Down syndrome and other genetic syndromes: Certain genetic conditions can make you more likely to develop leukemia. This includes:
- Having an identical twin who had or has leukemia. An identical twin who developed leukemia in the first year of their life increases your risk of developing leukemia.
What are the risk factors in children?
There are very few known lifestyles or environmental risk factors for leukemia in children. This makes it very hard to predict or prevent. Some of the adult risk factors, like previous cancer treatment or an identical twin with leukemia also apply to children.
In most cases, there’s nothing that children or parents can do to prevent childhood leukemia.
Unfortunately, risk factors for developing leukemia include cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, and immune-suppressing drugs given to transplant patients. This isn’t a common occurrence, but it’s a known risk factor.
Medical research is being done to see if there are ways to treat cancer and care for organ transplant patients without increasing their risk for leukemia. Currently, the benefits of chemotherapy, radiation, and immune-suppressing drugs outweigh the slight increase in the risk for leukemia.
Medical researchers aren’t sure of the effects of X-rays and CT scans done during pregnancy or in childhood. It’s thought that the risk of these low levels of radiation is very slight if there’s any risk at all.
But there’s a known link between higher levels of radiation and cancer risk. To minimize any possible risk, it’s recommended that pregnant women and children not have X-rays or CT scans unless they’re vital.
There’s no clear way to prevent leukemia. In both adults and children, the cause of leukemia is often unknown. There are some known risk factors, but many of them are things you can’t control or avoid.
But you can make changes to your lifestyle to reduce your risk of leukemia. Quitting smoking and managing your weight are the best steps you can take to lower your risk. These aren’t guaranteed to prevent leukemia, but lowering your risk is a positive step.