What is leukemia?

According to the National Cancer Institute, leukemia is a cancer of the blood. It starts in blood-forming tissue and produces large numbers of blood cells that then enter the bloodstream.

There are different types of leukemia: chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia.

As with most cancers, doctors cannot say for certain what causes the disease. However, research does show that there are risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of getting leukemia.

These risk factors as stated by the NCI include:

Exposure to high levels of radiation


Exposure to benzene -- a chemical found in cigarette smoke and in the chemical industry

Chemotherapy – particularly alkylating agents or topoiosomerase inhibitors

Down syndrome and certain other inherited diseases

Myelodysplastic syndrome and certain other blood disorders

Human T-cell leukemia virus type I

Family history of leukemia

Remember that having one, or even more than one, risk factor does not mean you will get leukemia. Talk to your physician if you have any concerns.

For more information, visit cancerservices.org, call (225) 927-2273, email cancerservices.org or visit Cancer Services, 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

NCI: What You Need to Know about Leukemia


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society


This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.