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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.
Many symptoms of leukemia are nonspecific and may be confused for those of the common cold or flu. Symptoms of leukemia can include:
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:
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:
The four major types of leukemia are:
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:
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed by Andrea Baird, MD
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