Leukemia is a cancer of the soft tissue in bones called bone marrow. Bone marrow creates red and white blood cells and leukemia causes abnormal white blood cells. White blood cells form and divide to fight infection in the body. The leukemia cells also form and divide rapidly, crowding out normal white and red blood cells and thereby not allowing them to do their work properly.
Chronic leukemia patients may experience no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Those with acute leukemia may experience symptoms of fatigue, frequent infections, fever, chills, weight loss, sweating and bone pain. Other symptoms may include bruising or bleeding easily, swollen lymph nodes and enlarged liver or spleen. Severity of the symptoms will depend upon how many leukemia cells are developing in the body.
Your risk of developing leukemia may increase if you have a family history of the disease. Other factors may include radiation treatment as being exposed to high levels of radiation can cause abnormal white cells. Certain chemotherapy drugs may cause a higher risk of leukemia.
Leukemia has four different types depending on which kind of white blood cell is affected. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia affects lymphoid cells and grows slowly and acute lymphocytic leukemia grows quickly. Chronic myeloid leukemia affects the myeloid white blood cells and grows gradually while acute myeloid leukemia grows faster.
People with leukemia suffer frequent infections and should receive vaccinations for the flu and pneumonia. Avoid crowds and anyone who may seem contagious. When an infection develops seek medical attention promptly. You may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. Anemia can plague those with leukemia and blood transfusions may be necessary.
Treatment will depend on if the leukemia is acute or chronic, your symptoms and overall health. Acute leukemia needs to be treated immediately while those with chronic leukemia may be able to wait. Chemotherapy treatment kills leukemia cells and may come in pill form or through injection. Radiation treatment uses high-energy rays to damage leukemia cells to halt their growth. Radiation may be used over the entire body or localized in one area where a collection of leukemia cells are grouped together. A kinase inhibitor drug called Gleevec has been associated with high rates of remission, according to the National Institute of Health.