Risk Factors of Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Executive Summary

Risk factors influence the chance of developing cancer (acute myeloid leukemia) among individuals, but individuals with no risk factors may also develop this cancer. Although the cause of AML is unknown, various factors are linked with higher disease risk. The common risk factors of acute myeloid leukemia cancers include age (more common in older people above 65 years, but it occurs at all ages), genetic disorders (Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Ataxia telangiectasia, Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, Bloom syndrome, Familial Platelet Disorder syndrome), smoking, chemical exposure, high doses of radiation, and other bone marrow diseases (Essential thrombocytosis, Polycythemia vera, Myelodysplastic syndromes, Myelofibrosis, Aplastic anemia).

Risk Factors Associated with Acute Myeloid Leukemia

However, having a risk factor, or many does not give certainty of contradicting a particular cancer. Some people with no risk factors can also develop cancer. Although the cause of AML is unknown, various factors are linked with a higher risk of the disease. However, the below-mentioned factors may raise the risk of developing AML ​1​:

  • Age – AML is more common in older people, but it occurs at all ages. About half of people with AML are older than age 65 when diagnosed ​2​.
  • Genetic disorders – Increasingly, researchers find that leukemia may run in the family due to inherited gene mutations ​3​. AML often occurs in people with the following inherited disorders-
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Ataxia telangiectasia
    • Down syndrome
    • Klinefelter syndrome
    • Fanconi anemia
    • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
    • Bloom syndrome
    • Familial Platelet Disorder Syndrome
  • Other bone marrow disorders – People with other bone marrow diseases, including myeloproliferative disorders, can also develop AML with time. Myelo means bone marrow, and proliferative means too much. These conditions include:
    • Essential thrombocytosis
    • Polycythemia vera
    • Myelodysplastic syndromes
    • Myelofibrosis
    • Aplastic anemia

External Risk Factors

  • Smoking – The risk of AML has been linked to exposure to tobacco smoke, in addition to the other factors.
  • Chemicals – Long-term contact with products found in petroleum, cigarette smoke, chemical benzene, and industrial workplaces also increases the risk of AML ​4​. However, exposure to hair dyes and industrial solvents has not been proven to increase a person’s risk of AML.
  • Previous cancer treatment – People who received radiation therapy or chemotherapy for other types of cancer, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and lymphoma, have a higher risk of developing AML in the years following treatment.
  • High doses of radiation – People exposed to high radiation levels, like long-term survivors of atomic bombs, may also have more chances to develop AML ​5​. Even so, the electromagnetic fields produced by high voltage electrical power lines have not been shown to cause AML. The use of cell phones is also not yet known to be a risk factor for AML.


  1. 1.
    Hulegårdh E, Nilsson C, Lazarevic V, et al. Characterization and prognostic features of secondary acute myeloid leukemia in a population-based setting: A report from the Swedish Acute Leukemia Registry. Am J Hematol. Published online January 16, 2015:208-214. doi:10.1002/ajh.23908
  2. 2.
    Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2019. CA A Cancer J Clin. Published online January 2019:7-34. doi:10.3322/caac.21551
  3. 3.
    Goldin LR, Kristinsson SY, Liang XS, Derolf ÅR, Landgren O, Björkholm M. Familial Aggregation of Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Myelodysplastic Syndromes. JCO. Published online January 10, 2012:179-183. doi:10.1200/jco.2011.37.1203
  4. 4.
    Bhatia S. Therapy-Related Myelodysplasia and Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Seminars in Oncology. Published online December 2013:666-675. doi:10.1053/j.seminoncol.2013.09.013
  5. 5.
    Bueso-Ramos CE, Kanagal-Shamanna R, Routbort MJ, Hanson CA. Therapy-Related Myeloid Neoplasms. American Journal of Clinical Pathology. Published online August 1, 2015:207-218. doi:10.1309/ajcpu1jo2lytwuav