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A risk factor is something that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person’s age, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even many risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person has a risk factor and gets cancer, it’s often very hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the cancer.

Risk factors for acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

There are some known risk factors for AML:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene
  • Being treated with certain chemotherapy drugs
  • Exposure to high doses of radiation
  • Certain blood diseases such as polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, idiopathic myelofibrosis, and myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Some genetic syndromes, such as Fanconi anemia, Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Down syndrome
  • Family history of AML
  • Older age
  • Male gender

Some other factors have been studied for a possible link to AML, but so far these links haven’t been proven:

  • Exposure to electromagnetic fields (such as living near power lines)
  • Workplace exposure to diesel, gasoline, and certain other chemicals and solvents
  • Exposure to herbicides or pesticides


Last Medical Review: 04/21/2015
Last Revised: 02/22/2016