Leukemia (British spelling: leukaemia ) is cancer of the blood or bone marrow (which produces blood cells). A person who has leukemia suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, generally leukocytes (white blood cells). The DNA of immature blood cells, mainly white cells, becomes damaged in some way. This abnormality causes the blood cells to grow and divide chaotically. Normal blood cells die after a while and are replaced by new cells which are produced in the bone marrow. The abnormal blood cells do not die so easily, and accumulate, occupying more and more space. As more and more space is occupied by these faulty blood cells there is less and less space for the normal cells - and the sufferer becomes ill. Quite simply, the bad cells crowd out the good cells in the blood.Symptoms of leukemia (BLOOD CANCER)
As immature white blood cells crowd out blood platelets, which are crucial for blood clotting, the patient may bruise or bleed easily and heal slowly - he may also develop petechiae (a small red to purple spot on the body, caused by a minor hemorrhage).
The patient's white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infection, may be suppressed or not working properly. The patient may experience frequent infections, or his immune system may attack other good body cells.
As the shortage of good red blood cells grows the patient may suffer from anemia - this may lead to difficult or labored respiration (dyspnea) and pallor (skin has a pale color caused by illness).
Experts say that different leukemias have different causes. The following are either known causes, or strongly suspected causes:
Treatment for blood cancer depends on the type of cancer, your age, how fast the cancer is progressing, where the cancer has spread and other factors. Some common blood cancer treatments include:
In general, there are five major approaches to the treatment of leukemia:
A stem cell transplant infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body. Stem cells can be collected from the bone marrow, circulating (peripheral) blood and umbilical cord blood.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs designed to interfere with and halt the growth of cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy for blood cancer sometimes consists of giving several drugs together in a set regimen. It may also be given before a stem cell transplant.
Radiation therapy may be used to destroy cancer cells or to relieve pain or discomfort. It may also be given before a stem cell transplant. Leukemia is not a single disease. Instead, the term leukemia refers to a number of related cancers that start in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. There are both acute and chronic forms of leukemia, each with many subtypes that vary in their response to treatment. In addition, children with leukemia have special needs that are best met by care in pediatric cancer centers.
Younger patients that are at high risk of dying from CLL might consider hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Autologous stem cell transplantation, a lower-risk form of treatment using the patient's own blood cells, is not curative. Myeloablative (bone marrow killing) forms of allogeneic stem cell transplantation, a high-risk treatment using blood cells from a healthy donor, may be curative for some patients, but most patients cannot tolerate the treatment. An intermediate level, called reduced-intensity conditioning allogeneic stem cell transplantation, may be better tolerated by older or frail patients.