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Leukemia: Causes, symptoms, and

Leukemia 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).

People sometimes confuse leukemia and lymphoma. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood;
lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system (lymph glands). The word Leukemia comes
from the Greek leukos, which means "white", and aima, which means "blood".

The DNA of immature blood cells, mainly white cells, becomes 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

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.

Fast facts on leukemia

Here are some key points about leukemia. More detail and supporting information is in the
main article.

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 60,140 people were expected to be
diagnosed with leukemia in 2016.

There are about 54,270 new cases of leukemia in the United States each year.

Although leukemia is among the most common childhood cancers, it most often occurs
in older adults.

Leukemia is slightly more common in men than women.

People with leukemia have many treatment options, and treatment for leukemia can
often control the disease and its symptoms.

Leukemia symptoms
Blood clotting is poor - 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

Affected immune system - 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.

Anemia - 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).

Other symptoms - Patients may also experience nausea, fever, chills, night sweats, flu-like
symptoms, weight loss, bone pain, and tiredness. If the liver or spleen becomes enlarged
the patient may feel full and will eat less, resulting in weight loss.

Weight loss can also occur independent of hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) or splenomegaly
(enlarged spleen). Headache is more common among patients whose cancerous cells
have invaded the CNS (central nervous system).

As all these symptoms could be due to other illnesses, a diagnosis of leukemia can only
be confirmed after medical tests are carried out.

Leukemia risk factors

Some factors put certain people at higher risk of developing leukemia. The following are
either known or suspected factors:

artificial ionizing radiation

viruses - HTLV-1 (human T-lymphotropic virus) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

benzene and some petrochemicals

alkylating chemotherapy agents used in previous cancers

maternal fetal transmission (rare)

hair dyes


Genetic predisposition - some studies researching family history and looking at twins
have indicated that some people have a higher risk of developing leukemia because of a
single gene or multiple genes.

Down syndrome - people with Down syndrome have a significantly higher risk of
developing leukemia, compared with people who do not have Down syndrome. Experts
say that because of this, people with certain chromosomal abnormalities may have a
higher risk.

Electromagnetic energy - studies indicate there is not enough evidence to show that
ELF magnetic (not electric) fields that exist currently might cause leukemia. The IARC
(International Agency for Research on Cancer) says that studies which indicate there is a
risk tend to be biased and unreliable.

Leukemia and bone marrow function

The bone marrow is found inside of bones. The marrow in the large bones of adults
produces blood cells. Approximately 4 percent of our total bodyweight consists of bone


There are two types of bone marrow:

Red marrow, made up mainly of myeloid tissue.

Yellow marrow, made up mostly of fat cells.

Red marrow can be found in the flat bones, such as the breast bone, skull, vertebrae,
shoulder blades, hip bone, and ribs. Red marrow can also be found at the ends of long
bones, such as the humerus and femur.

White blood cells (lymphocytes), red blood cells, and platelets are produced in the red
marrow. Red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight diseases. Platelets are
essential for blood clotting. Yellow marrow can be found in the inside of the middle section
of long bones.

If a person loses a lot of blood the body can convert yellow marrow to red marrow in order
to raise blood cell production.

White blood cells, red blood cells and platelets exist in plasma - blood plasma is the liquid
component of blood, in which the blood cells are suspended.

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