cancer info

Friday, June 1, 2012


What is leukemia?

The word Leukemia comes from the Greek leukos which means "white" and aima which means "blood". It 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.

 Causes & Risk Factors

No one knows the exact causes of leukemia
Studies have found the following risk factors for leukemia:

1.Very high levels of radiation

2.Working with certain chemicals
 Exposure to high levels of benzene in the workplace can cause leukemia.

 Cancer patients treated with certain cancer-fighting drugs sometimes later develop leukemia.

4.Down syndrome and certain other genetic diseases
 Some diseases caused by abnormal chromosomes may increase the risk of leukemia.

5.Human T-cell leukemia virus-I (HTLV-I)
 This virus causes a rare type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia known as human T-cell leukemia.

6.Myelodysplastic syndrome
 People with this blood disease are at increased risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia.

Type of leukemia

1.Chronic Leukemias

In chronic leukemia, the leukemia cells come from mature, abnormal cells. The cells thrive for too long and accumulate.The cells grow slowly.

2.Acute Leukemias

Acute leukemia,on the other hand, develop from early cells, called "blasts". Blasts are young cells, that divide frequently. In acute leukemia cells, they don't stop dividing like their normal counterparts do.

The remain two types refer to the type of cells in which the leukemia started from.

3.Myelogenous Leukemia

Myelogenous leukemia develops from myeloid cells. The disease can either be chronic or acute, referred as chronic myelogenous leukemia(CML), or acute myelogenous leukemia(ALL).

4.Lymphocytic Leukemia

Lymphocytic leukemia develops from cells called lymphoblasts or lymphocytes in the blood marrow.


Common symptoms of chronic or acute leukemia may include:
  • Swollen lymph nodes that usually don't hurt (especially lymph nodes in the neck or armpit)
  • fever or night sweats
  • Frequent infections
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Bleeding and bruising easily (bleeding gums, purplish patches in the skin, or tiny red spots under the skin)
  • Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from a swollen spleen or liver)
  •  Weight loss for no known reason
  • Pain in the bones or joints

Treatment option

Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. An infection or other health problems may also cause these symptoms. Only a doctor can tell for sure.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles, a treatment period followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period and so on.  Anticancer drugs reach all areas of your body through your bloodstream.  Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying.   Some healthy cells are destroyed as well, which is what causes the side effects, but normal cells are often able to repair themselves after treatment.  Different types of drugs are used for the different types of leukemia.

Biological therapy is treatment with substances that affect the immune system's response to cancer. Interferon, a drug used against some types of leukemia, is a form of biological therapy. Biological therapy or immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, using antibodies to target and destroy leukemia cells.

Radiation is treatment with high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells.  Sometimes it is used for leukemia in the central nervous system or testicles as well as for pain caused by bone destruction.  However, radiation is not the primary treatment for leukemia.  In high doses radiation therapy kills cells or keeps them from growing and dividing.  Radiation therapy is helpful in treating cancer because cancer cells reproduce faster than most normal cells.  Although radiation does kill normal cells along with the cancer cells.
Bone Marrow Transplants , are probably the best bet for a cure in many cases of leukemia.  Doctors perform this procedure when leukemia is in remission or when the patient relapses during or after treatment.  Patients are given a bone marrow transplant so that their body can be given higher doses of chemotherapy drugs that would not be tolerated otherwise.


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