Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects blood forming tissues, such as the lymphatic system and the bone marrow. Leukemia exists in many forms. Some are common in children, while others affect mostly adults. Leukemia affects the production of white blood cells. In the body, white blood cells fight infections. They usually grow and replicate in an orderly way to meet the requirements of the immune system. Leukemia inhibits this process. As a result, the bone marrow manufactures abnormal white blood cells that do not function properly.
Symptoms vary depending on the leukemia type. The common signs include:
- Persistent weakness and fatigue
- Enlarged liver or spleen/ swollen lymph nodes
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Weight loss without exercising or dieting
- Tiny red spots in the skin
- Severe and frequent infections
- Bone pain
- Excessive sweating during the night
Classification of leukemia
Leukemia is classified using two criteria- the type of cells involved and the speed of its development. Based on the speed, leukemia can be classified as:
- Acute leukemia. In this stage, the abnormal cells cannot function properly. The quickly multiply and grow and the disease becomes worse. Acute leukemia requires abrupt and aggressive treatment.
- Chronic leukemia. In chronic leukemia, the abnormal blood cells replicate slowly and may function as normal cells for a period of time. There are various forms of chronic leukemia. Due to the slow nature of mature cells, chronic leukemia produces no early symptoms initially.
The second type of classification, which is based on the type of white blood cells affected, include:
- Lymphocytic leukemia. This leukemia affects the lymphatic tissue, which is basically the immune system.
- Myelogenous leukemia. In this case, the myeloid cells are affected. Myeloid cells produce white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets cells.
- Previous cancer treatment
- Genetic disorders
- Exposure to harmful chemicals, such as benzene in gasoline
- Family history