Leukemia is a type of blood cancer in which there is an excessive production in the bone marrow of abnormal white blood cells.
Bone marrow is the soft tissue found inside the bones where blood cells are made. There are three main types of blood cells:
Blood cells come from blasts cells in the bone marrow. Blasts are precursors to blood cells that are in the early stage of development. These blasts must develop to become either white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets.
When a person suffers from leukemia, blasts multiply uncontrollably filling up the bone marrow and prevent the proper production of other blood cells (bone marrow failure).
These blast cells, usually abnormal white blood cells, also spill out into the bloodstream and spread to other organs and tissues, such as the lymph nodes and the spleen.
Leukemia is caused by critical gene mutation of unknown origin in the DNA of blood cells.
Some known risk factors for leukemia are:
Leukemia is estimated to affect 12 to 14 people per 100,000 inhabitants each year.
Since leukemia is a group of diseases, many disorders can classify as a leukemia, but may differ in their symptoms and treatments. However, leukemia may be classified regarding different perspectives.
Based in terms of how quickly it develops, leukemia can be classified into:
Based on the type of blasts and blood cells affected can be classified into:
Acute leukemia is more common in children, while chronic leukemia is more common in adults.
Similarly, Lymphocytic leukemia is more common in children, whereas myeloid leukemia is more common in adults and the elderly.
In the early stages of the disease, there are no evident symptoms since there are still healthy blood cells.
Afterwards, the low count of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets may cause the following symptoms:
Other common symptoms may be:
Leukemia can be detected in a blood test when the blast cells invade the blood.
However, the best test to diagnose leukemia is a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. With this test, a small amount of fluid is removed from the bone marrow and the blood cells are studied under a microscope.
Each type of leukemia may need a specific treatment. Nevertheless, the following measures can be considered appropriate for the most types of leukemia: