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The cause of ALL isn’t known, but research is going on all the time to find out more. Like other cancers, ALL isn’t infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.
There are a number of factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing ALL. Having a particular risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get ALL, just as people without any known risk factors can still develop it. The known risk factors of ALL are:
Exposure to very high radiation levels (such as those during a nuclear accident or an atom bomb) is known to increase the risk of developing ALL. However, very few people in the UK will be exposed to radiation levels high enough to increase their risk. In recent years there has been publicity about the increase in leukaemia in people living close to nuclear power plants. Research is still underway to see if there is any definite link, but currently there is no evidence of this.
Research has shown that a person’s risk of developing ALL is not significantly increased by:
In very rare cases, leukaemia may occur in people who have been exposed to chemicals used in industry, such as benzene and other solvents.
It is thought that ALL occurs due to a series of changes in a particular group of immature blood cells. What causes the changes is not fully understood, but infection may be involved in the process. However, no specific infections have been found to cause leukaemia.
Content last reviewed: 1 July 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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