Leukemia

General Information About Leukemia Image

Generally speaking, leukemia is a form of cancer that affects bone marrow and the production of blood cells, mainly white blood cells. The disease exists in several forms, but is always malignant.

Over 44,790 cases of leukemia are diagnosed in the United States annually, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2009). The disease is most common in people over the age of 60. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in children.

Types of Leukemia

There are four main types of leukemia:

Acute types of leukemia progress very rapidly, while chronic forms cause more progressive symptoms of leukemia.

Hematopoiesis and Leukemia

Blood cells are categorized into three types, all of which are formed in a process called hematopoiesis:

  • Platelets control blood clotting
  • Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen to the body
  • White blood cells (WBCs) protect against infection.

Leukemia develops from abnormal white blood cell formation. Stem cells don’t develop and mature properly, causing excess myeloid and lymphoid cells (two different types of WBCs). Over time, these abnormal cells crowd out healthy cells, causing the debilitating symptoms of leukemia.

Signs of Leukemia

There are several symptoms of leukemia that are associated with this disease. Following are some common signs of leukemia, which may be related to imbalances in blood count:

  • Anemia: Low red blood cell levels from leukemia often cause anemia, leading to fatigue and pale skin.
  • Bruising and bleeding easily: Platelets control the blood’s clotting ability. Low levels of platelets lead to easy bruising and bleeding, and small cuts take longer to heal.
  • Recurrent infections: Low levels of WBCs lead to frequent infections, which may become serious with a compromised immune system.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: These glands may be enlarged in the neck or groin. Signs of leukemia include tender lymph nodes that may feel bumpy.

Leukemia in Children and Adults

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2009) reports approximately 3,500 cases of leukemia in children under the age of 14 in the United States, accounting for one-third of childhood cancers. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common cancer in children under the age of 7.

Leukemia is a very common form of cancer — approximately 245,225 Americans have leukemia, as reported by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2009). Leukemia is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States; The National Cancer Institute (n.d.) estimates 21,870 deaths every year.

Leukemia Survival Rate

Despite these numbers, the leukemia survival rate has improved in the past 50 years. According to The Survivors Club (n.d.), the five-year leukemia survival rate was only 14 percent in the early 60s. Since then, the leukemia survival rate has improved to a five-year rate of 54 percent.

Survival rates for leukemia in children have also improved. The death rate for childhood leukemia has dropped 88 percent since the 1960s. However, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths; The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2009) estimates roughly 400 leukemia-related childhood deaths in the United States in 2009.

While leukemia remains a potentially fatal disease, it isn’t the death sentence it was in the 1960s, when the leukemia survival rate was grim. With proper care and management, sufferers may be able to manage symptoms of leukemia or even cure the disease.

Resources

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2009). Leukemia facts and statistics. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from www.leukemia.org/all_page?item_id=9346.

MedicineNet. (2010). Definition of hematopoiesis. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=19775.

MedicineNet. (2009). Leukemia. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/leukemia/article.htm.

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Leukemia. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/leukemia.

The Survivors Club. (n.d.). Leukemia stages and survival rates. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from http://www.thesurvivorsclub.org/support-center/health/cancer/leukemia/leukemia-stages-and-survival-rates.html.