A risk factor is something that raises your chances of getting a health problem.

You can have leukemia with or without those listed below. The more you have, the greater your chances of getting it. Ask your doctor what you can to do lower your risk.

Leukemia is most common in adults aged 60 years and older. However, acute lymphoblastic leukemia happens most often in children under 8 years old. Males carry a slightly higher risk than females.

The list below is a general list that cover most types of leukemia.


When you smoke, many harmful chemicals get into the body. Current or prior smoking is strongly linked to acute myeloid leukemias and chronic myeloid leukemia. The risk is higher with the number of cigarettes smoked and years as a smoker.


Being around benzene is strongly linked to leukemia. Benzene is found in gasoline, wood smoke, tobacco smoke, exhaust from cars, and well water. It is also used to make plastics, nylon fibers, dyes, and pesticides. Benzene can be taken into the body through the skin or lungs.

People who have survived nuclear accidents or explosions also have a higher risk. Fallout from radiation stays in the environment for years.

Medical Care

Some treatments that may increase risk are:

  • Certain tests during doctor or dental visits such as x-rays or scans
  • Prior chemotherapy (rare)


Having certain genetic diseases can make the risk higher.

These may include:


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (ALL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116388/Acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-lymphoma-ALL. Updated October 17, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML. Updated August 14, 2018. March 13, 2019.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114637/Chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-CLL-Small-lymphocytic-leukemia-SLL. Updated November 21, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115889/Chronic-myeloid-leukemia-CML. Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Overview of leukemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/overview-of-leukemia. Updated December 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

8/26/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML: Fircanis S, Merriam P, Khan N, Castillo JJ. The relation between cigarette smoking and risk of acute myeloid leukemia: an updated meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Am J Hematol. 2014;89(8):E125-E132.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/13/2019