Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Leukemia

The cause of leukemia is unknown, but certain factors may increase the risk of leukemia, including:

  • Smoking
  • Chemotherapy (however, the benefit of taking the medication outweighs the risk)
  • Radiation exposure
  • Blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndromes (occurs when blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged)
  • Certain chemicals, like benzene
  • A known family history of leukemia
  • Rare congenital diseases, such as Down syndrome, ataxia telangiectasia, and Bloom syndrome


Symptoms of leukemia can mimic many other conditions. If you're experiencing symptoms of leukemia, your physician will perform a complete health assessment in addition to diagnostic testing. As with all cancers, early detection improves the chances of a positive outcome.

Diagnostic tests vary depending on the type of blood and lymph cancer your physician is trying to rule out. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture to collect spinal fluid
  • Lymph node biopsy
  • Lymph node removal

A diagnosis of leukemia can only be verified by viewing cancer cells under a microscope. If a diagnosis is made, your physician may use additional tests to assess the stage of the cancer. These tests include: