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5 Facts About Leukemia That Aren't Well Known

Medically reviewed by Todd Gersten, M.D.
Written by Anika Brahmbhatt
Posted on October 4, 2021

If you or a loved one is living with leukemia, you may very well have spent a lot of time researching the condition and trying to understand the most essential information about its causes, symptoms, and progression. But even the most detail-oriented researchers may not know every fact about leukemia, because the disease has so many variables from one person to the next.

By learning these five lesser-known facts about leukemia, you can deepen your understanding of the condition. Ultimately, more knowledge can empower you to self-advocate as you travel along your leukemia journey.

Fact 1: Most People With Leukemia Have No Known Risk Factors

Although certain risk factors make a leukemia diagnosis more likely, most people who develop the disease don’t have any known risk factors at all. In addition, those who do have a risk factor for leukemia may still never develop the condition.

Some of the risk factors for leukemia include:

  • A family history of the condition
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents, such as radiation or benzene
  • An existing genetic condition, such as Down syndrome or Bloom syndrome

Fact 2: Leukemia Is the Most Common Childhood Cancer

Leukemia, while rare, is the most common cancer found in children. According to the American Cancer Society, most children who develop leukemia will get acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — also commonly known as acute lymphocytic leukemia. Moreover, the majority of people with ALL develop it during early childhood, with the peak occurring between the ages of 2 and 5.

The five-year survival rate for children diagnosed with ALL is around 90 percent. This is higher than the survival rates for childhood chronic myeloid leukemia (65 percent to 70 percent) and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (about 50 percent), which are both rarer than ALL.

Fact 3: There Is Likely No Way To Prevent Childhood Leukemia

It is extremely unlikely that any childhood forms of leukemia are caused by lifestyle or environmental factors. The American Cancer Society emphasizes the importance of parents understanding that there was likely nothing that could have been done to prevent their child from developing the disease.

The most important factor for parents is to stay informed and involved in their child’s leukemia treatment.

Fact 4: There Are No Specific Screening Tests for Leukemia

No single, specific screening test exists to detect the presence of leukemia. A doctor may find out that someone has signs indicating leukemia from blood test results during their routine physical, or by performing a physical exam, taking a history, and ordering specific tests.

If a doctor thinks you might have leukemia, they may perform further tests, like a bone marrow biopsy or spinal tap.

Fact 5: Leukemia Is More Common Among Males

Leukemia affects men more often than women, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society estimates that in 2021, of the 23,660 people in the United States who will die from leukemia, nearly 59 percent will be male and 41 percent will be female. Researchers are not yet sure why the condition affects males more than females, and they are continuing to research the reason.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyLeukemiaTeam, the social network for people with leukemia and their loved ones, more than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with leukemia.

Which leukemia facts do you find the most compelling? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on October 4, 2021
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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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