What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells of the bone marrow. Patients with leukemia have an over-production of a particular blood cell type in the body, the white blood cells (cells that fight infection and provide immunity). The excessive number of white blood cells cause many of the symptoms of leukemia.
Based on the origin, the white blood cells can be divided into two broad types – myeloid or lymphoid:
- Myeloid leukemia (myelogenous leukemia) arises from the uncontrolled production of the blood cells called myeloblasts in the bone marrow. Normally, myeloblasts would turn into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes).
- Lymphoid leukemia (lymphoid or lymphoblastic leukemia) arises from cells called lymphoblasts in the bone marrow. Normally, lymphoblasts would turn into a particular type of white blood cells, the lymphocytes.
Based on how fast it progresses, it is divided into acute and chronic leukemia.
- Acute leukemia: Most of the abnormal blood cells are immature and do not function normally. It progresses very quickly.
- Chronic leukemia: There are some immature cells, but others are normal and function normally. It is slowly progressive.
What are the causes of leukemia?
There are several causes of leukemia. All the causative agents ultimately lead to the damage or alteration of DNA. The probable causes are:
- Genetics: Family history, chromosomal abnormalities, etc.
- Environmental factors: radiation exposure, drugs, and chemicals
- Other underlying blood disorders
How does leukemia kill?
The outcome of leukemia depends on the type of leukemia, the extent of the disease, age of the patient, and the general condition of the patient.
Patients with leukemia may ultimately die due to multiple infections (bacteria, fungal, and/or viral), severe nutritional deficiencies, and failure of multiple organ systems. The patients can also face complications due to the leukemia treatment itself, which can sometimes be life-threatening.
Some patients can go into complete remission.
What are the signs and symptoms of leukemia?
18 Signs and symptoms of leukemia include:
- Frequent infection
- Pale skin and nails
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body pain
- Bleeding gums
- Prolonged bleeding following injuries
- Heavy and prolonged bleeding during menstruation
- Easy bruising
- Swollen lymph nodes around the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin
- Difficulty in breathing
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Inflammation of the eyes
What are the types of leukemia?
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Progresses rapidly and spreads to other organ systems through the blood.
- It mostly occurs in children and those older than 45 years.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- It is the second most common leukemia in adults. Commonly seen in adults older than 55-60 years.
- In AML, the myeloid cells mutate, forming defective cells and prevent the formation of normal, healthy cells.
- There is a decrease in healthy and functioning mature white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
- It is rapidly progressive.
- Slow-growing cancer that begins in lymphocyte cells present in the bone marrow.
- There is an abnormally high multiplication of lymphocyte cells that are immature and do not function properly. This decreases the body’s immunity against infections.
- Spreads to the lymph nodes and other organ systems through the blood.
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
- CML is associated with a chromosomal abnormality known as the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph chromosome).
- Spreads through the blood to other organ systems
Hairy cell leukemia (HCL)
- A rare subtype of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that progresses slowly.
- The bone marrow produces a high number of B-cells, a type of white blood cell that normally fights against infection.
- There is a decrease in the production of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
- A group of closely-related diseases in which the bone marrow produces very few healthy, functioning red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets, or any combination of these three.
How is leukemia treated?
- Chemotherapy: a single drug or combination of drugs that kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: radiation is used to damage the rapidly produced cancer cells, killing them, and inhibiting their growth. It can be applied selectively to a specific area or the whole body.
- Bone marrow transplant: diseased bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow from the patient (called autologous transplantation) or from a donor (called allogeneic transplantation).
- Immune therapy: the body’s immune system is modulated to recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Treatment of symptoms and other diseases: pain, anemia, and infections
- Nutrition: Nutritional supplementation
- Palliative care: for untreatable situations (interdisciplinary medical care to improve quality of life, and reduce pain and suffering in patients with a terminal illness)
- Psychological support
- Treatment of side effects and complications: such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and inflammation of the skin
Latest Cancer News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top How Does Leukemia Kill Related Articles
Arzerra (ofatumumab)Arzerra (ofatumumab) Injection is a monoclonal antibody used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Common side effects of Arzerra include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, swelling of hands/ankles/feet, trouble sleeping, skin rash, or cold symptoms such as stuffy nose, sneezing, and sore throat. Arzerra decreases bone marrow function, which can cause anemia.
Asparlas (calaspargase pegol - mknl)Asparlas (calaspargase pegol - mknl) is an asparagine specific enzyme indicated as a component of a multi-agent chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in pediatric and young adult patients age 1 month to 21 years. Common side effects of Asparlas include elevated transaminase, bilirubin increased, pancreatitis, abnormal clotting studies, diarrhea, hypersensitivity, shortness of breath, bleeding, pneumonia, and abnormal heart rate.
Belrapzo (bendamustine hydrochloride) InjectionBelrapzo (bendamustine hydrochloride) injection is an alkylating drug indicated for treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and indolent B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that has progressed during or within six months of treatment with rituximab or a rituximab-containing regimen. Side effects of Belrapzo include nausea, fatigue, low iron (anemia), low platelet count (thrombocytopenia), low white blood cells (neutropenia, lymphopenia, leukopenia), too much bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia), fever, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, cough, headache, shortness of breath, rash, and inflammation of the mouth and lips
Bendeka (bendamustine hydrochloride)Bendeka (bendamustine hydrochloride) Injection is an alkylating drug indicated for treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and indolent B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that has progressed during or within six months of treatment with rituximab or a rituximab-containing regimen. Common side effects of Bendeka include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, fever, diarrhea, constipation, anorexia, cough, headache, weight loss, shortness of breath, chills, pneumonia, drowsiness, rash, itching, inflammation of the mouth and lips, feeling unwell (malaise), dry mouth, and others.
Cancer 101 SlideshowLearn the basics about cancer including types, causes, how it spreads, symptoms and signs, stages and treatment options. Read about the common type of cancers.
Top Cancer-Fighting FoodsExperts have praised certain foods for their ability to reduce cancer risks. Learn which foods and eating strategies may help reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Cancer QuizTake this quiz to learn the causes of cancer. Get the facts about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the world's most common cancers.
Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children. Symptoms and signs include fever, easy bruising, bone or joint pain, weakness, loss of appetite, and painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin. Treatment depends upon staging and may include chemotherapy, radiation, or stem cell transplant.
Copiktra (duvelisib)Copiktra is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) or Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL) who have received at least 2 prior therapies and they did not work or are no longer working. It is also used to treat Follicular Lymphoma (FL) who have received at least 2 prior therapies and they did not work or are no longer working. Serious side effects of Copiktra include elevated liver enzymes and low white blood cell count (neutropenia).
Idhifa (enasidenib)Idhifa (enasidenib) is a prescription medicine used to treat people with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with an isocitrate dehydrogenase-2 (IDH2) mutation whose disease has come back or has not improved after previous treatment(s). Patients treated with Idhifa have experienced symptoms of differentiation syndrome, which can be fatal if not treated. The most common side effects of Idhifa include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and decreased appetite.
LeukemiaLeukemia is a type of cancer of the blood cells in which the growth and development of the blood cells are abnormal. Strictly speaking, leukemia should refer only to cancer of the white blood cells (the leukocytes) but in practice it can apply to malignancy of any cellular element in the blood or bone marrow, as in red cell leukemia (erythroleukemia).
Leukemia QuizWhat do you know about leukemia? Did you know there are different types? What are the symptoms? Take the Leukemia Quiz and test your knowledge and get the facts.
Leukeran (chlorambucil)Leukeran (chlorambucil) is a prescription medicine used to treat the symptoms of Chronic Lymphatic (Lymphocytic) Leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Leukeran may be used alone or with other medications. Serious side effects of Leukeran include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat, seizures, unusual mass or lump, severe vomiting or diarrhea, new or worsening cough, easy bruising, unusual bleeding (nose, mouth, vagina, or rectum), purple or red pinpoint spots under skin, and others.
Matulane (procarbazine hydrochloride)Matulane (procarbazine hydrochloride) Capsules is a cancer medication that is given with other cancer medications to treat Hodgkin's Disease (a type of blood cancer). Common side effects of Matulane include nausea and vomiting (may be severe), loss of appetite, stomach pain, constipation, dry mouth, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, drowsiness, tiredness, dizziness, headache, trouble sleeping, muscle or joint pain, temporary hair loss, darkening of the skin, itching or rash, urinating more than usual, or changes in your menstrual periods.
Men's Cancer SymptomsSee pictures of which 15 cancer symptoms men ignore such as skin changes, difficulty swallowing, rapid weight loss, a breast mass, and more. Learn possible clues to finding and detecting cancer early.
Onureg (azacitidine)Onureg is a prescription medicine used for continued treatment of adults with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who had a first complete remission (CR) following intensive induction chemotherapy with or without recovery of your blood cell counts, and who are not able to complete intensive curative therapy.
Purinethol (mercaptopurine)Purinethol (mercaptopurine) is used to slow the growth of cancer cells. Purinethol is also used to treat certain types of leukemia. Common side effects of Purinethol include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, itching or skin rash, or darkened skin color. Temporary hair loss may also occur.
Treanda (bendamustine hydrochloride) InjectionTreanda (bendamustine hydrochloride) injection is an antineoplastic (anticancer) medication used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Treanda is also used to treat indolent B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma after other medications have been tried without successful treatment of this condition. Common side effects of Treanda include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, weakness, mouth sores, constipation, upset stomach, swelling in your hands or feet, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and mild skin rash.
Venclexta (venetoclax)Venclexta is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) in combination with azacitidine, or decitabine, or low-dose cytarabine to treat adults with newly-diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who are 75 years of age or older, or have other medical conditions that prevent the use of standard chemotherapy.
Female Cancer SymptomsCancer symptoms can surprise women if they don't know what to watch out for. 15 cancer symptoms women ignore such as weight loss, bloating, breast changes, unusual bleeding, skin changes, difficulty swallowing, indigestion, and more. Learn possible clues to finding and detecting cancer early.
Zydelig (idelalisib)Zydelig is a prescription medication used to treat relapsed forms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), follicular B-cell non- Hodgkin lymphoma (FL), and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). Zydelig is not indicated and is not recommended as a first-line treatment. Serious side effects of Zydelig include fatal and/or serious hepatotoxicity, severe diarrhea, pneumonitis, infections, and intestinal perforation.