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What are the risk factors?

Acute Leukaemia (AML and ALL)

The cause of acute leukaemia is unknown, but factors that put some people at higher risk are:

  • previous treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • exposure to intense radiation
  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, petroleum products, paints, certain pesticides and heavy metals, over a long period of time.
  • certain genetic disorders such as Downs syndrome
  • viruses like the Human T-Cell leukaemia virus.

Chronic leukaemia (CML and CLL)

Chronic leukaemia is caused by changes to one or more of the genes that control the growth and development of blood cells. These changes happen over time, but it is not known why they occur in some people and not others. Exposure to some chemicals or high doses of radiation has been linked to developing leukaemia, but this doesn’t explain most cases.

This information is reviewed by

This information was written and last reviewed in September 2020 by Cancer Council SA's experienced information team with support from national Cancer Council publications.