Leukemia Prevention and Screening
Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you're healthy and don't have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.
Unfortunately, no standardized screening tests have been shown to improve leukemia outcomes. However, here at MD Anderson, we're working to develop screening tests for those at risk. If you have risk factors, especially one of the inherited disorders listed below, talk to your doctor about the need for testing.
Leukemia Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting leukemia is a risk factor. Although the specific cause of leukemia is not known, scientists suspect that viral, genetic, environmental or immunologic factors may be involved. These include:
Viruses: Some viruses cause leukemia in animals, but in humans viruses cause only one rare type of leukemia. Even if a virus is involved, leukemia is not contagious. It cannot spread from one person to another. There is no increased occurrence of leukemia among people such as friends, family and caregivers who have close contact with leukemia patients.
Inherited disorders: Rarely, genetic changes that may increase chances of developing leukemia run in families.
Environmental factors: High-dose radiation and exposure to certain toxic chemicals have been directly related to leukemia. But this has been true only in extreme cases, such as atomic bomb survivors in Nagasaki and Hiroshima or industrial workers exposed to benzene. Exposure to ordinary X-rays, like chest X-rays, is not believed to be cause leukemia.
Immune-system deficiencies: These appear to put people at greater risk for cancer because of the body's decreased ability to resist foreign cells. There is evidence that patients treated for other types of cancer with some types of chemotherapy and/or high-dose radiation therapy may later develop leukemia.
Smoking tobacco may be a risk factor for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
These factors may play a part in a small percentage of leukemia cases. But for most patients, the cause of leukemia is not known.
Not everyone with risk factors gets leukemia. However, if you have risk factors, it's a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.
Why Choose MD Anderson?
- Largest leukemia program in the world
- Internationally known, highly experienced leukemia physicians
- New approaches that may increase chances for successful leukemia treatment
- More than 150 active clinical trials for leukemia, many not available elsewhere
- Access to investigational agents, including targeted therapies, vaccines and “mini” stem cell transplants
- On-site hematopathology lab and bone marrow aspiration
- “Fast track” leukemia clinic makes check-ups fast and efficient
- AML and CLL are part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program: an ambitious effort to reduce cancer deaths through the rapid discovery of new treatments
Leukemia Knowledge Center
Since the exact cause of most leukemia is not known, no known lifestyle changes are certain to lower the risk of developing most types of leukemia. Avoiding tobacco may help prevent AML.
Research shows that many cancers can be prevented. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.