Leukemia develops when a defect in the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, causes the body to make abnormal white blood cells. Eventually, the abnormal cells can begin to crowd out the normal ones and compromise immunity.
Leukemia can be either chronic or acute. Chronic leukemia develops slowly. At first, the abnormal white blood cells actually work like standard white blood cells, but the disease gradually worsens over time. With acute leukemia, however, the abnormal cells never work properly, and the disease progresses much more rapidly.
Causes and Symptoms of Leukemia
Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes leukemia, but some of the risk factors include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, X-rays, smoking, Down syndrome, some inherited diseases and some blood disorders. When you have leukemia, at first it may not exhibit any symptoms at all. Over time, however, you would begin to feel sick. This includes fatigue, weakness, fever, joint and bone pain, easy bleeding and bruising, unexplained weight loss, getting infections frequently and abdominal swelling.
Leukemia can be treated in a variety of ways. The treatment or combination of treatments that's best will vary quite a bit depending on the type of leukemia, the stage of the cancer as well as specific concerns for the person with the disease. Therapies that have been successful in treating leukemia include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and a stem cell transplant. For a very slow-developing leukemia, some patients have the option of “watchful waiting,” where treatment is held off in order to delay the side effects of cancer treatment, though this option carries with it certain risks of its own.
SOURCES: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; U.S. National Cancer Institute