Conditions InDepth: Leukemia
Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells and the cells from which they develop. The word cancer refers to diseases in which certain cells in the body become abnormal and grow unchecked. In this case, the abnormal cells are white blood cells and their precursors. Leukemia cells do not function normally and cannot do what normal white blood cells do, such as fight infections. In addition to the abnormal cells in the blood, other, normal elements such as platelets and red cells may be decreased, leading to anemia and clotting problems.
White Blood Cells
The most common types of leukemia are:
Erythroleukemia —This is a cancer of the cells that produce red cells and is extremely uncommon. Erythroleukemia may also be called di Gugliemo’s syndrome, after the physician who first described it.
The cause of leukemia is unknown, but research shows that certain risk factors are associated with the disease, and the risk factors will vary with the type of leukemia.
According to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, approximately 48,490 Americans will learn they have leukemia this year. About half will have chronic types and half will have acute forms.
American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp .
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/hm_lls . Accessed August 13, 2008.
National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .
Last reviewed June 2008 by
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