by Kimberley Allen R.N.
Leukemia refers to a group of cancers known as the leukemias. These are cancers that affect the blood cells, more specifically the white blood cells. The leukemias as a group are resposible for approximately 25% of the childhood cancers affecting approximately 2,200 children in the US every year though approximately 90% of all leukemias are diagnosed in adults. Leukemia is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls and caucasion children are diagnosed with some form of leukemia twice as often as African American children.
One of the most frequently asked questions peole have when diagnosed with cancer is how? What caused it? Unfortunately as yet no one has been able to determine the exact cause of any of the leukemias. However, researchers have determined that there are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of getting some form of leukemia. The most well known risk factor is exposure to very high levels of radiation though there are others including exposure to benzene, certain chemotherapy medications and certain inherited disorders like down syndrome. However, most people that have one or more risk factors don’t develop leukemia and many people that do get leukemia don’t have any known risk factors.
Leukemias can be acute or chronic. People with one of the acute leukemias exhibit severe symptoms rapidly where as those with a chronic leukemia develop symptoms slowly over a period of time that can even be years before the symptoms are severe enough to be noticed.
The type of leukemia is determined by the type of white blood cell that is affected. The two most commonly affected are the lymphocytes, known as lymphocytic or lymphoblastic leukemia, and the myelocytes known as myelogenous leukemia. The four most common types of leukemia affects theses cells. They are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and chronic lymphcytic leukemia (CLL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Acute myelogenous leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia are most commonly diagnosed in adults. In children the most commonly diagnosed lekemias are acute lymphblastic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia though there are others less common like juvenile myelomoncytic leukemia (JMML).
The symptoms of leukemia usually depends on the type of leukemia depends on the type of leukemia affecting your body, however there are some symptoms common to all leukemias. They include fever and night sweats, bruising or bleeding seemingly without cause, swollen lymph nodes, increased fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite and weight and repeated infections.
There are many treatments available for leukemia today. The type of treatment you need depends on several factors including the type of leukemia you have and how far it has progressed, other factors include your age and overall health. If you have a form of leukemia that is acute you will need treatment immediately to stop the proliferation of leukemia cells. Chronic leukemias are rarely cured, however treatment can help control the effects of the disease. In the case of chronic myelogenous leukemia it’s recommended that treatment begins immediately. If you are diagnosed with any type of leukemia it’s important to do your own research and ask questions. Actively participate in developing a care plan that is right for you and always seek a second opinion, don’t be afraid of offending your Dr, most expect and welcome a second opinion.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.