What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells that help fight infection. With leukemia, your bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones, produces abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal white blood cells grow rapidly, spread out into the bloodstream, and crowd out healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

The abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection as effectively as the normal white blood cells, resulting in increased infections. The abnormal white blood cells also accumulate in the organs of the body, such as the spleen, liver, lymph nodes, testes and brain, and interfere with normal organ function.

Other types of cells can be affected as well. The reduced number of red blood cells leads to anemia. The lower number of platelets, special cells that are needed for normal clotting, leads to poor blood clotting.

Leukemia is a common cancer in adults, and about one-third of all cancers in children are leukemias, according to the National Cancer Institute  (Source: NCI).

The name Leukemia is a general term for four main types of malignant diseases of the blood and bone marrow. These include:

Rapidly progressing types of leukemia:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia

Slowly progressing types of leukemia:

Leukemia can develop quickly, leading to life-threatening complications and possibly death, especially if it goes undetected and untreated. The good news is that some types of leukemia can be cured or controlled. Seeking regular medical care offers the best chances of detecting leukemia in its earliest, most curable stage. If you have leukemia, following your treatment plan may help reduce your risk of serious complications.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

Symptoms of leukemia can vary among individuals and differ depending on the specific type of leukemia. In some cases, there may not be any symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia or chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Symptoms of leukemia are caused by the high numbers of abnormal white blood cells that crowd out normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

T... Read more about leukemiasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes leukemia?

The cause of every type of leukemia is not known, but some cases of leukemia are caused by abnormalities in chromosomes.

What are the risk factors for leukemia?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing leukemia. Not all people with risk factors will develop the disease.

Risk factors for leukemia include:

TREATMENTS

How is leukemia treated?

Treatment of leukemia begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to best evaluate your risks of developing leukemia and promptly order diagnostic testing for such symptoms as fatigue, enlarged spleen, shortness of breath, and easy bruising. These m... Read more about leukemiatreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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This Article is Filed Under: Cancer, Leukemia

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