Leukemia does not tend to run in families and therefore is not usually hereditary. Some people inherit genetic features that increase their risk, but this does not mean they will develop the condition.
Sometimes, a person is born with a genetic feature they have not inherited from their biological parents. This feature developed after conception but before birth. Such features may increase the risk of leukemia.
Environmental and lifestyle factors can also affect someone’s genes and increase their risk. These factors include exposure to toxic chemicals and smoking. These types of genetic changes occur during a person’s lifetime, and doctors call them acquired genetic changes.
While scientists have identified both acquired and inherited genetic features that occur with leukemia, they have not identified any hereditary gene that causes the disease.
In most cases, it is not possible to know why leukemia occurs.
This article will explore the links between leukemia, family history, and genetics. We also discuss the risk factors and tips for preventing this condition.
Leukemia is a genetic disease but not necessarily inherited.
It is a genetic disease because it relates to a person’s DNA, the material that carries genetic information. DNA determines the development, growth, and function of body 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.
People inherit DNA, but it can also change during gestation before birth or during their lifetime.
Leukemia results from changes in the DNA of bone marrow cells. It causes atypical cell development in the blood and bone marrow. Leukemia cells may prevent bone marrow from producing healthy cells.
In rare cases, heredity may play a role. Familial acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an inherited form of AML. People who have familial AML may have altered CEBPA genes.
Sometimes, parents pass along certain genetic mutations or inherited conditions that
Types of leukemia that may occur alongside other genetic conditions include:
- acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- myelodysplasia (MDS)
- chronic myelomonocytic leukemia
- juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia
However, leukemia-related DNA changes usually develop after conception rather than being inherited from a parent’s genes. Exposure to radiation, chemicals, infections, and other environmental factors contribute to genetic changes that result in atypical DNA.
Risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing leukemia include:
Leukemia is a genetic disease that results from changes in a person’s genes. People can inherit genetic risk factors, or their genes can change because of environmental triggers.
The authors of a
Inherited forms of leukemia appear to be rare.
There may be another inherited condition in the family with the same genetic change, such as a platelet deficiency or immune condition.
One form of leukemia, ALL, is
The risk of developing ALL is higher during childhood but falls as people enter their 20s. It rises again after the age of
The risk of developing most cancers increases with age. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that
The ACS notes that leukemia is
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Other inherited genetic disorders
The ACS states that
- Down syndrome
- Bloom syndrome
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Fanconi anemia
Exposure to environmental factors can increase the risk.
Here are some factors that appear to contribute to leukemia:
- toxic substances, such as benzene
- radiation, for example, during a nuclear accident, radiation therapy, or X-ray imaging
Benzene is a chemical present in many products, including gasoline, glue, cleaning supplies, cigarettes, detergents, and dyes. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), benzene is in the top 20 most produced chemicals in the United States.
In most cases, it is not clear why leukemia develops. However, being aware of the risk factors can help people take precautions.
Here are some tips for reducing the risk:
- learn about risks that have links to known genetic features in the family
- avoid or quit smoking
- avoid contact with benzene, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals
Here are some questions people often ask about leukemia and heredity.
What kind of leukemia is hereditary?
Who is more likely to get leukemia?
Most cases of leukemia do not have an obvious cause, but exposure to high levels of radiation and certain toxins can
Is there genetic testing for leukemia?
Genetic testing can show doctors which kind of genetic changes are present in cancer cells, and this can help identify the type of leukemia. However, it cannot show if someone is likely to inherit or pass on the disease. In most cases, the genetic changes that occur with leukemia are not hereditary.
Leukemia involves atypical cell development in the blood and bone marrow. It does not usually run in families, but people can inherit genetic features that increase their risk of developing it.
It is not always possible to prevent leukemia, but taking steps, such as avoiding smoking and exposure to certain toxins, may help.