What is leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made.
When you are healthy, your bone marrow makes:
When you have leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don't do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don't stop growing when they should.
Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out the normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections. Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling or pain.
Are there different types of leukemia?
There are several different types of leukemia. In general, leukemia is grouped by how fast it gets worse and what kind of white blood cell it affects.
The four main types of leukemia are:
In adults, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) are the most common leukemias. In children, the most common leukemia is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Childhood leukemias also include acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and other myeloid leukemias, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML).
What causes leukemia?
Experts don't know what causes leukemia. But some things are known to increase the risk of some kinds of leukemia. These things are called risk factors. You are more likely to get leukemia if you:
But most people who have these risk factors don't get leukemia. And most people who get leukemia do not have any known risk factors.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may depend on what type of leukemia you have, but common symptoms include:
How is leukemia diagnosed?
To find out if you have leukemia, a doctor will:
If your blood tests are not normal, the doctor may want to do a bone marrow biopsy. This test lets the doctor look at cells from inside your bone. This can give key information about what type of leukemia it is so you can get the right treatment.
How is it treated?
What type of treatment you need will depend on many things, including what kind of leukemia you have, how far along it is, and your age and overall health.
Treatments for leukemia include:
For some people, clinical trials are a treatment option. Clinical trials are research projects to test new medicines and other treatments. Often people with leukemia take part in these studies.
Some treatments for leukemia can cause side effects. Your doctor can tell you what problems are common and help you find ways to manage them.
Finding out that you or your child has leukemia can be a terrible shock. It may help to:
Frequently Asked Questions
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