What is blood cancer?
The body has three types of blood cells that are made by stem cells in the bone marrow:
- Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body.
- White blood cells fight infection.
- Platelets form clots to slow or stop bleeding.
Cancers of the blood and lymph make it difficult for each of these blood cells to do its work.
What is leukemia?
Normal blood cells die when they no longer work, but cancerous white blood cells don’t die and they make copies of themselves. In a person with leukemia, the blood stem cells make abnormal white blood cells that don’t work properly. Normal blood cells die when they no longer work, but cancerous white blood cells don’t die and they make copies of themselves. Soon, the abnormal white blood cells are crowding out the healthy blood cells.
Once there are a lot of these abnormal cells taking the place of the healthy ones, the person’s blood can’t do what it is supposed to do. The person can’t get enough oxygen to the body, fight infections, or clot blood to stop bleeding.
Leukemia cells can either grow slowly and cause problems over time (chronic) or grow quickly and cause an immediate and sudden problem (acute).
There are four main types of leukemia:
- Acute lymphoblastic (lymphocytic) leukemia – ALL
- Acute myeloid (myelogenous) leukemia – AML
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia- CLL
- Chronic myeloid (myelogenous) leukemia- CML
All different types of leukemia will have different treatments. The one thing they have in common is they begin in a cell in the bone marrow. The cell will undergo a change and become a type of leukemia cell.
Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatments
Some signs and symptoms of leukemia are similar to common illnesses so specific blood tests and procedures are needed to make a diagnosis.
Signs and symptoms may vary but they may include:
- Shortness of breath with activity
- Pale appearing skin
- Mild fever or night sweats
- Excessive bruising and bleeding
- Slow wound healing
- Bone or joint pain
- Abnormal blood counts
- Frequent infections
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Chronic leukemia’s may not have symptoms and patients may find out they have cancer after a routine blood test at their doctor’s office. These are slow growing cancers and wouldn’t prompt a patient to be seen by a physician as they don’t always manifest symptoms.