Leukemia Facts

generic medicine, medical, proportions of a man, caduceus, cancer, parkinson's, graphic
The death of Ed Bradley got a lot of people thinking about the disease that killed him. Thousands of Americans are diagnosed with leukemia every year. But what, exactly, is leukemia, and what can be done to treat it?

What is leukemia?

According to WebMD, leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. Blood cells are made by your bone marrow, which is the soft tissue in the middle of most bones. In leukemia, the bone marrow starts making too many white blood cells, and sometimes these cells don't work right. These cells keep growing when they are supposed to stop. They also grow faster than your other cells. Over time, these abnormal cells crowd out your normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

What function do your blood cells serve?

Your white blood cells help your body fight infection. Your red blood cells make sure all your body parts have the oxygen they need. Your platelets keep you from bleeding too much. When the leukemia cells crowd out your normal cells, your blood cannot do its job. You may bleed or bruise easily, get sick more often, and feel very tired.

Are there different types of leukemia?

There are four main types of leukemia. Acute leukemia gets worse very quickly. People with acute leukemia often feel sick right away. Chronic leukemia gets worse slowly, and you may not have any symptoms until later on in the illness. Those two kinds of leukemia are divided according to which kind of white blood cells are involved, lymphocytes or myelocytes.

What causes leukemia?

Experts do not know what causes leukemia. They do not know why some people get it and others do not. It is likely that the different types of leukemia have different causes.

Research has shown that some people may be more likely to get leukemia. A risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting a disease. Risk factors for leukemia include chemotherapy treatment, being exposed to large amounts of radiation or some chemicals in the workplace, and smoking and tobacco use.

What are the symptoms?

According to WebMD, symptoms may include:
  • Fevers and night sweats.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Bruising of the skin and bleeding from the gums or rectum.
  • Joint pain.
  • Swelling in the belly or pain on the left side of the belly or in the left shoulder from a swollen spleen.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck, or groin.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss because you feel full and don't want to eat.
  • How common is leukemia?

    According to WebMD, Each year in the United States about 30,000 new cases of leukemia are diagnosed. It accounts for about one-third of all cancers in children younger than 15. Leukemia causes an estimated 22,000 deaths each year. It is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths among men and the seventh leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

    How can I register to be a bone marrow donor?

    You can register with the National Marrow Done Program.

    To learn more about leukemia:

    • Click here to learn more about this disease through the Leukemia Research Foundation.

    • The American Cancer Society has helpful resources on leukemia.

    • You can also learn more about leukemia through WebMD.

    • The National Cancer Institute has more resources about cancer.

    • The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has additional resources.