Environmental factors

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Exposure to ionizing radiation and certain toxic chemicals may predispose individuals to leukemia and other problems involving the bone marrow. Many Japanese who were exposed to fallout from the atomic bomb during World War II and some of the people living near the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine have developed leukemia. However, children exposed to irradiation from the bombs while in the mothers womb did not have an increased risk of developing leukemia.

Chronic exposure to benzene has been associated with leukemia in adults. Also, radiation given for conditions such as tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) and thymus enlargement can increase the risk of developing leukemia. Most children, however, are not exposed to large amounts of radiation or industrial chemicals.

The data are mixed about whether exposure to electromagnetic fields increases the risk of leukemia. Most recent data suggest that if there is an increased risk, it is minimal. For information about the US governments electromagnetic field (EMF) research efforts, including public information materials developed by the EMF Research and Public Information Dissemination (EMF RAPID) program, refer to the EMF RAPID home page on the Internet: www.niehs.nih.gov/oc/factsheets/emf/emf.htm. Additional information on electromagnetic fields is available at the FCC website at www.fcc.gov/oet/ rfsafety.

Certain types of chemotherapy (drugs that inhibit the enzyme topoisomerase and alkylating agents) or radiation treatments for prior cancers can cause acute myeloid leukemia. The greatest risk is one year after treatment with topoisomerase inhibitors and four to five years after treatment with alkylating agents and irradiation.

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