Risk factors of Blood Cancer

Executive Summary

Risk factors influence the chance of developing cancer among individuals, but individuals with no risk factors also develop cancer. Leukaemia, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Myeloma are the significant risk factors for the occurrence of blood cancer.

Risk Factors Associated with Blood Cancer


It is caused when there are a lot of White blood cells with the inability to fight diseases which is a risk factor for blood cancer ​1​. There are four types of leukemia based on which white blood cell is affected and the severity of the spread of the disease. 

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

It is caused due to the excess lymphocytes ( white blood cells) in the bone marrow, which crowd the healthy white blood cells. If not treated soon, ALL can spread far too quickly. ALL is generally seen in kids aged three to five and adults over seventy-five ​2​. Some of the risk factors of ALL (blood cancer):

  • Having a sibling with ALL 
  • Treatment of chemotherapy or radiation for other types of cancers in the past 
  • Anyone who’s been near a lot of radiation 
  • Anyone with down syndrome or genetic disorder 

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

The myeloid cells form white blood cells, Red blood cells and Platelets. People with this condition include far less healthy blood cells of all three types. If not treated, AML can spread quickly. AML is a condition primarily seen in men above the age of 65. The risk factors of AML (blood cancer) ​3​:

  • Treated with Chemotherapy or Radiation for other types of cancers in the past 
  • Who are exposed to toxic chemicals like Benzene 
  • Smokers 
  • Having genetic disorders like Down syndrome or blood disorders like Myelodysplasia or Polycythemia vera 

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Like ALL, this condition starts with the Lymphocytes in the bone marrow. The only difference is that this condition takes time to spread. People suffering from this condition, mostly aged 70 or older, don’t show symptoms for years. The risk factors of CLL (blood cancer) are ​4​:

  • Family history of blood cancer
  • Who is exposed to chemicals like Weed killers and insecticides?

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Like AML, this condition starts with Myeloid cells with a difference in the spread of the condition is much slower. CML is mainly seen in adult men, but children can get it in rare cases. The risk factors of CML (blood cancer) are:

  • When exposed to huge amounts of radiation  


This cancer starts in the lymph system network, including lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland. This network of vessels carries white blood cells throughout the system to fight diseases. There are two types of Lymphoma.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

B lymphocytes or B cells are the immune cells that make antibodies to fight off hostile bodies. People with this condition have large lymphocytes called Reed Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes. People suffering from this condition are mostly between 15 to 35 or over 50. The risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma (blood cancer) increases for people with ​5​

  • Weak immune system 
  • Already contacted HIV, Epstein – Barr virus or Helicobacter pylori 

Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – B cells and T cells are the immune cells in this condition starts in. People are more likely to contact Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma than Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. People suffering from this condition are primarily between 15 to 35 or over 50. The risk factors of Hodgkin’s lymphoma increase for people with:

  • Weak immune system 
  • Already contacted HIV, Epstein – Barr virus or Helicobacter pylori


The bone marrow consists of Plasma cells, a type of blood cell that produces antibodies. Myeloma affects the plasma cells, thus producing antibodies that can’t fight infection and crowd the healthy blood cells. It can damage the bones, and hence it’s also called Multiple Myeloma. People suffering from this condition are mostly men over the age of 50.  


  1. 1.
    Davis A, Viera A, Mead M. Leukemia: an overview for primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(9):731-738. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24784336
  2. 2.
    Ilhan G, Karakus S, Andic N. Risk factors and primary prevention of acute leukemia. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2006;7(4):515-517. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17250419
  3. 3.
    Villela L, Bolaños-Meade J. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Drugs. Published online August 2011:1537-1550. doi:10.2165/11593060-000000000-00000
  4. 4.
    Kipps TJ, Stevenson FK, Wu CJ, et al. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Nat Rev Dis Primers. Published online January 19, 2017. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2016.96
  5. 5.
    Shanbhag S, Ambinder RF. Hodgkin lymphoma: A review and update on recent progress. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Published online December 1, 2017:116-132. doi:10.3322/caac.21438