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Diseases & Conditions A - Z
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Leukemia Information

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that affects important disease- and infection-fighting systems of the body, including white blood cells. Patients with leukemia have bone marrow that produces abnormal, poorly functioning white blood cells in large numbers. The DNA in those cells mutates and divides rapidly, taking up space that would normally be occupied by healthy cells.

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be about 43,000 new cases of leukemia and nearly 22,000 deaths from it by the end of 2010.

Symptoms & Risk Factors

Many symptoms of leukemia are nonspecific and may be confused for those of the common cold or flu. Symptoms of leukemia can include:

  • persistent fatigue
  • fever, chills, night sweats
  • frequent infections
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • easy bruising, bleeding
  • unintentional weight loss
  • bone pain

While the cause of leukemia is not known, there are certain risk factors that have been identified that can increase risk of developing it. They include:

  • exposure to benzene
  • smoking
  • a family history of leukemia
  • previous cancer treatment
  • certain inherited conditions such as Down syndrome
  • exposure to radiation

Diagnosis & Treatment

Upon diagnosis, leukemia is classified as either acute (rapid progression) or chronic (slower progression with fewer symptoms). Leukemia is further classified by which blood cells are affected:

  • myeloid cells, which mature into red blood cells, platelets, or one of several types of white blood cells other than lymphocytes
  • lymphoid cells, which mature into one of several types of lymphocytes

The four major types of leukemia are:

  • acute myelogenous leukemia
  • chronic myelogenous leukemia
  • acute lymphocytic leukemia
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Treatment options depend on whether the leukemia is acute or chronic—as well as other factors. One or a combination of the following treatments may be used:

  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • biological therapy
  • radiation therapy
  • stem cell transplant

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed : Andrea Baird, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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