Why Leukemia Happens: Could It Run in Your Family?
Could leukemia run in your family? Doctors can’t often pinpoint the causes, but they know of some factors that can increase your risk for the disease. Learn more.
You may think that leukemia, which is cancer of the blood, develops randomly. But certain circumstances can increase your risk. And recent research identifies a new class of genetic mutations that may drive risk later in life.
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Leukemia comes in many forms. It develops in children and adults, mostly older adults and men. It accounts for more than 3.6 percent of new cancer diagnoses. In most cases, doctors can’t pinpoint a cause.
“There has been an explosion in research into trying to find out how certain changes in DNA can cause normal bone marrow cells to become leukemia cells,” Dr. Mukherjee says. “We are finding out more answers as we collect better, more systematic patient histories.”
The more information doctors and researchers gather, the better they can identify why leukemia develops. Dr. Mukherjee lists four known environmental causes that can increase your risk:
Can leukemia run in your family? Yes, Dr. Mukherjee says, but it’s extremely rare. To date, researchers have identified few families with an inheritable form of leukemia, he says.
There are some genetic mutations, though, that can increase your leukemia risk. They include:
Down syndrome and rare genetic conditions that increase the likelihood of leukemia include Fanconi’s anemia, Bloom syndrome, Diamond-Blackfan anemia, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome and Li-Fraumeni among others. If you or a relative has any of these conditions, your doctor may suggest meeting with the rest of your family.
If your doctor suspects that there is a genetic link to leukemia in your family, it’s a good idea to follow up on that possibility. The more you know, the better you and your doctor can monitor the situation for you and your relatives.
“It’s exceedingly rare for leukemia to run in families,” Dr. Mukherjee says. “But, if we know someone has a genetic defect, we can send them and their family members to get genetic counseling and the best treatment options.”