Every four minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Despite this shocking statistics, many people do not know much about the disease, or any of the other blood cancers, until they are diagnosed. That’s why today we’re talking about Leukemia.
Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood (white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets). It causes the DNA of immature white blood cells to become damaged in some way. This abnormality causes the blood cells to grow and divide continuously. Healthy 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 when they should, and accumulate, occupying more space. As more cancer cells are produced, they impede the function and growth of healthy white blood cells by crowding out space in the blood. Essentially, the bad cells crowd out the good cells in the blood.
Because it affects white blood cells, this disease hinders the body’s ability to fight infection. It can be acute or chronic. Acute types of leukemia progress quickly, while chronic types of leukemia progress slowly, leading to different treatments.
The two main kinds of leukemia are—
- Lymphocytic leukemia (also known as lymphoblastic leukemia), in which the body makes too many of a certain kind of white blood cells, called lymphocytes.
- Myelogenous leukemia (also known as myeloid or myelocytic leukemia), in which the body makes too many of a certain kind of white blood cells, called granulocytes.
Leukemia is the most common kind of cancer among children and teens. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is more common among children and teens than among adults. However, because other types of leukemia become more common with age, most cases of leukemia occur among adults.
What Causes Leukemia?
Scientists do not fully understand all of the causes of leukemia, but research has found many links. These include:
- Repeated exposure to benzene in the workplace
- Exposure to large doses of ionizing radiation
- Tobacco smoke
- Family history of leukemia
- Viruses – HTLV-1 (human T-lymphotropic virus) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- Having a genetic syndrome such as Down syndrome or blood disorders such as polycythemia vera
- Having a gene mutation (change) called the Philadelphia chromosome. It results in the bone marrow making an enzyme, called tyrosine kinase, that causes too many stem cells to become white blood cells. The Philadelphia chromosome is not passed from parent to child.
- White people are more likely than black people to develop lymphocytic leukemia.
- Leukemia is slightly more common in men than women
What Are the Symptoms of Leukemia?
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia usually does not cause any symptoms and is usually found during a routine blood test. If it does cause symptoms, they can include swollen lymph nodes and feeling tired. Symptoms of chronic myelogenous leukemia include fever, night sweats, and feeling tired. Sometimes chronic myelogenous leukemia does not cause any symptoms.
The early symptoms of acute leukemia may be like those caused by the flu or other common diseases. Symptoms include fever, night sweats, feeling tired, feeling out of breath, and bruising or bleeding easily.
How is it Treated?
Treatment depends on severity and is highly variable. For slow-growing leukemias, treatment may include monitoring. For aggressive leukemias, treatment includes chemotherapy that’s sometimes followed by radiation and stem-cell transplant.
Early detection is important since early diagnosis results in earlier treatment. Earlier treatment means more options and a higher rate of treatment success. The symptoms of Leukemia can also come from other conditions. If you have any of them, you need to speak to a medical care provider to be sure.
At EliteCare, we strive to help you keep your health in check with school, work and sports physicals, annual wellness exams, annual gynecologic visits and flu shots. If you have questions about your health, don’t hesitate to call us at (662) 348-3342.