Leukemia does not usually run in families, so in most cases, it is not hereditary. However, people can inherit genetic abnormalities that increase their risk of developing this form of cancer.
In other cases, environmental and lifestyle factors can increase a person’s risk of leukemia. Such factors include exposure to toxic chemicals and smoking.
In this article, we will explore the links between leukemia, family history, and genetics. We also discuss the difference between genetic and hereditary leukemia, as well as risk factors and tips for preventing leukemia.
Leukemia is a genetic disease, though in most cases, it is not hereditary.
Leukemia is a genetic disease because it is related to a person’s DNA, which is the material that carries genetic information. DNA determines the development, growth, and function of their bodily cells.
DNA is responsible for determining unchangeable features, such as eye and hair color, but also the continued growth and development of blood, skin, and other bodily cells.
Leukemia develops due to mutations in the DNA of bone marrow cells. It causes abnormal cell development in the blood and bone marrow. Leukemia cells may prevent bone marrow from producing healthy cells.
These mutations do not always run in families. A person can inherit DNA changes from their parents or acquire them during their lifetimes. Leukemia-related DNA mutations usually develop after conception rather than being inherited from a parent’s genes.
Sometimes, parents pass along certain genetic mutations or inherited conditions that increase a child’s risk of developing leukemia.
Certain factors, such as environment, exposure to chemicals, and lifestyle, contribute to genetic mutations that result in abnormal DNA. However, in most cases, these mutations occur for no known reason.
Familial acute myeloid leukemia is an inherited form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). People who have familial AML may have altered CEBPA genes.
A risk factor is an element that increases a person’s risk of developing a disease. Risk factors can come from a person’s genetic makeup, environment, or lifestyle.
Having one or more risk factor does not necessarily mean that a person will develop a disease.
Risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing leukemia include:
Leukemia is a genetic disease that changes in a person’s genes cause. People can inherit genetic risk factors, or a person’s genes can change because of environmental triggers.
Mutations of the Philadelphia chromosome transform stem cells into white blood cells. This genetic mutation does not run in families, but it may increase the risk of chronic myeloid leukemia.
The authors of a 2019 study found that certain gene mutations, specifically FLT3-ITD and NRAS mutations, frequently appear in people who have AML-M5, a type of AML that forms in immature white blood cells.
Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with leukemia can increase the risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
The risk of CLL and ALL increase with age. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimate that 9 out of 10 of people who have CLL are 50 or older.
Males are slightly more likely to get CLL than females. ALL also occurs more often in males than females.
CDC data suggest that leukemia occurs most often in white people, followed by Hispanic and black people.
Other inherited genetic disorders
The ACS state that the following inherited genetic syndromes may increase the risk of ALL:
- Down syndrome
- Bloom syndrome
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Fanconi anemia
Exposure to toxic substances, such as industrial chemicals and radiation, can increase the risk of leukemia. People may encounter radiation during imaging tests such as MRI scans, X-rays, and CT scans.
Receiving chemotherapy treatments may also increase the risk of developing leukemia.
Exposure to chemicals such as benzene, gasoline, and cigarette smoke may put people at higher risk of leukemia.
Benzene is a chemical present in many products, from glue and cleaning supplies to detergents and dyes. According to the CDC, benzene is in the top 20 most produced chemicals in the United States.
Although people have no control over certain risk factors, such as age and biological sex, they can lower their risk of leukemia by making lifestyle changes such as:
Leukemia causes abnormal cell development in the blood and bone marrow. Although leukemia itself does not usually run in families, people can inherit genetic abnormalities that increase their risk of developing this form of cancer.
Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and smoking, can raise a person’s risk of leukemia.
People can take steps to lower their risk by understanding their family history and making healthful life choices.