Leukemia is a type of cancer that impacts the blood-forming tissues of the bone marrow and greater lymphatic system. There are many types of leukemia, some of which are most common in children. Leukemia primarily affects the white blood cells, which are vital to your body’s infection-fighting process. The white blood cells of those with leukemia often stop functioning properly.
The symptoms of leukemia can vary quite a bit depending on which type you develop. The more general signs include things such as fever and chills, unexplained and persistent weakness, as well as frequent and severe infections. Other people will experience weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, bleeding easily, and excessive sweating.
Leukemia is broken into two classifications, acute leukemia, and chronic leukemia. Acute leukemia causes white blood cells to proliferate at a rapid rate, requiring aggressive and timely treatment. Chronic leukemia, on the other hand, refers to a wide range of leukemias, which can have varied effects. Some produce too many white blood cells, others too few. Some forms have limited symptoms and can go unnoticed for years.
A serious complication of all types of cancer is spreading to other parts of the body. This process, known as metastasizing, can significantly decrease the chances treatment is successful, making early detection paramount. Even if your cancer goes into remission, you’ll always face a higher risk of developing it again, meaning you should schedule regular screenings.
While researchers don’t yet know precisely what causes leukemia, they believe it’s a complex relationship between genetic and environmental factors. Generally speaking, leukemia occurs when the DNA in healthy cells becomes corrupted and impacts functionality and proliferation. Certain kinds of changes can lead to more rapid growth and expansion, damaging healthy tissue everywhere it goes.
Some factors that can increase your chances of developing leukemia include things out of our control, such as family history or certain genetic disorders such as down syndrome. However, another significant risk factor for leukemia is having undergone treatment for another type of cancer. Some types of chemotherapy are known to increase this risk. Otherwise, the risk factors we know about are primarily exposure to dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes or the chemical industry.
Leukemia is a relatively common type of cancer, with nearly 400,000 Americans living with the disease, and another 170 diagnosed every day. That means over 60,000 people will be diagnosed this year alone. While some types are more common in children, adults are about ten times more likely to develop leukemia than children.
Given the very serious nature of leukemia, if you’re worried that you or a loved one could be dealing with this condition, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. Early detection and treatment are vital. Only a medical professional can provide a real diagnosis, as well as offer you the right next steps.