Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.
Many types of leukemia exist. Some forms of leukemia are most common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults.
Leukemia usually starts in the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal white blood cells, which don't function properly.
Treatment for leukemia can be complex — depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. But there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful.
Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
Leukemia symptoms are often vague and not specific to the disease. You may overlook early leukemia symptoms because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses.
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Scientists don't understand the exact causes of leukemia. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
How leukemia forms
How leukemia is classified
The first type of classification is by how fast the leukemia progresses:
The second type of classification is by type of white blood cell affected:
Types of leukemia
Other, rarer types of leukemia exist, including hairy cell leukemia.
Your body's lymphatic system is part of your immune system, which protects you against infection and disease. It includes your spleen, thymus, bone marrow, lymph nodes and lymph channels, as well as ...
Factors that may increase your risk of developing some types of leukemia include:
However, most people with known risk factors don't get leukemia. And many people with leukemia have none of these risk factors.
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects you may have leukemia, you may be referred to a doctor who treats diseases of the blood and bone marrow (hematologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For leukemia, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
Doctors often find chronic leukemia in a routine blood test, before symptoms begin. If this happens, or if you have signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, you may undergo the following diagnostic exams:
You may undergo additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the type of leukemia and its extent in your body. Certain types of leukemia are classified into stages, indicating the severity of the disease. Your leukemia's stage helps your doctor determine a treatment plan.
Bone marrow biopsy
In a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, a doctor or nurse uses a thin needle to remove a small amount of liquid bone marrow, usually from a spot in the back of your hipbone called the posterior iliac ...
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for your leukemia depends on many factors. Your doctor determines your leukemia treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.
Common treatments used to fight leukemia include:
Coping and support
A diagnosis of leukemia may be devastating — especially for the family of a newly diagnosed child. Remember that no matter what your concerns or prognosis, you're not alone. The road ahead may not be easy, but these strategies and resources may make it easier:
Last Updated: 2010-04-03
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