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 more common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults. Leukemia usually involves 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 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:
Leukemia symptoms are often vague and not specific. You may overlook early leukemia symptoms because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses. Rarely, leukemia may be discovered during blood tests for some other condition.
Scientists don't understand the exact causes of leukemia. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In general, leukemia is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action. There may be other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood could contribute to leukemia. Certain abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, causing the signs and symptoms of leukemia.
Doctors classify leukemia based on its speed of progression and the type of cells involved. 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:
The major types of leukemia are:
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.
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