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Is there a way to reduce my risk of getting leukemia?

5:30 PM, Aug 30, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - It's a type of cancer unlike any other, because with this one, there's no solid tumor to detect.

This week on our "8 Ways to Prevent Cancer" segment, a viewer wants to know how to reduce the risk of blood cancers, like leukemia.

"When patients ask us, 'why did I develop leukemia', the answer is that it really is a random event," said Dr. Peter Westervelt, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Chief of Bone Marrow Transplantation at the Siteman Cancer Center, and Washington University School of Medicine.

It's the seventh leading cause of cancer death in women, the sixth leading cause in men. And while there's very little you can do to prevent it, doctors do know what triggers some cases of this cancer of the bone marrow cells.

"The few cases where we can point to a smoking gun include patients that have a prior history of cancer requiring chemotherapy or radiation," said Dr. Westervelt.

Other risks include exposure to chemicals like benzene, and in rare cases, a family history of developing it.

"There's no evidence that diet or exercise for example plays a significant role in reducing the risk of leukemia," said Dr. Westervelt.

But keep in mind, obesity and smoking are linked to an overall increased risk of cancer. Symptoms can be very vague, and mimic other illnesses. Typically fatigue, low grade fevers and bruising.

"Leukemia is a curable disease in many cases, but certainly not in all cases," said Dr. Westervelt.

KSDK

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