Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells and blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and lymphatic system. An essential part of the body’s immune system is the production of white blood cells (leukocytes), where most cancer starts. The white blood cells help to protect against bacteria and viruses and fight off other harmful germs. Still, when these cells multiply too rapidly, they crowd normal, healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body and platelets, which help to clot the blood. It is possible, however, for cancers to develop in other blood cell types.
The different types of leukemia are named after the specific blood cells affected. Lymphoid cells are white blood cells most often found in lymphoid tissues (lymph nodes, spleen, and tonsils). Some types are more common in children, and others are primarily found in adults. Some are acute (faster growing), while others are chronic (slower growth).
Acute eosinophilic leukemia (a rare form of leukemia)
Chronic leukemias include:
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia(CMML)
Hairy cell leukemia (a rare form of leukemia)
Some risk factors for leukemia include:
Exposure: A person exposed to high radiation levels, such as fallout from an atomic weapon or nuclear plant failure, is at a higher risk. In addition, long-term exposure to benzene, a chemical solvent, can be at increase the risk of a form of leukemia. Individuals exposed to Agent Orange, the herbicidal agent used in chemical warfare in the Vietnam war, are also at increased risk.
Smoking: The cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes can increase a person’s risk for some forms of leukemia.
Family history: A person with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) may be at a higher risk of developing a type of leukemia, but most people diagnosed don’t have a family history.
Medical history: People with a blood abnormality called myeloblastic syndrome might develop leukemia. People who have specific genetic syndromes are also at a slightly higher risk.
Signs & Symptoms:
Signs and symptoms differ between people, and although many are familiar with more than one type of leukemia, there are differences between them. Therefore, it is best to talk with your oncologist about the signs and symptoms you may experience with the type of leukemia you have been diagnosed with.
Some of the diagnostic procedures used when leukemia is suspected are listed below. It will depend on the type of leukemia as to which of these tests your oncologist will order to make a definitive diagnosis:
Tissue biopsy (skin or lymph nodes)
Bone marrow biopsy
Imaging: CT Scan, PET-CT
Helpful Patient Resources:
We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and emotional time for patients and their families. Therefore, discussing any questions or concerns, you may have with your oncologist is very important. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.