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About Leukemia

What is Leukemia?

Cancer of the blood is called Leukemia. Types of leukemia are named after the specific blood cells that become cancerous. There are 4 main types of leukemia in adults:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
    Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer that begins in a bone marrow cell that normally forms a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. It progresses rapidly without treatment. That's why it's important to start treatment soon after diagnosis.

    For a brief but informative video on ALL from the Children and Young People’s Cancer Service in England, click on the link below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOziZ78kE3M&feature=related
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
    Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow and usually progresses slowly. Patients have greater numbers of mature cells which are capable of carrying out some of their normal functions. Many people with CLL live good-quality lives for years without medical care.

    For a brief but informative video on CLL from the Mayo Clinic, click on the link below:                 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCMuizn980c&feature=related
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
    Acute myeloid (also called myelogenous) leukemia (AML) is a cancer that begins in a bone marrow cell that normally matures into some kinds of white cells, red blood cells and platelets. It progresses quickly without treatment and affects mostly cells that aren't fully developed. Because these cells can't carry out their normal functions it's important to get care and treatment as soon as possible.

    For a brief but informative video on pediatric AML from the Chicago School of Medicine, click on the link below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NE5BtHcZZXo
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
    Chronic myeloid (also called myelogenous) leukemia (CML) is a cancer that begins in a bone marrow cell that normally matures into some kinds of white cells, red blood cells and platelets. It usually progresses slowly because patients have more mature cells capable of carrying out some of their normal functions. CML is usually diagnosed in its chronic phase when treatment is very effective for most patients. 

    For a brief but informative video on CML from the Mayo Clinic, click on the link below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGqyY57uTvU

There are other, less common types of leukemia but they are generally subcategories of one of the four main categories. About 4,800 people in Canada develop leukemia each year.

What is Acute Leukemia?

Acute leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease that results in the accumulation of immature, non-functional cells in the marrow and blood. As a result, the bone marrow often can no longer produce enough normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Acute leukemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.

What is Chronic Leukemia?

This type of leukemia involves more mature blood cells. These blood cells replicate or accumulate more slowly and can function normally for a period of time. Some forms of chronic leukemia initially produce no symptoms and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years.

Is Leukemia Contagious?

Leukemia is not contagious, though when someone has leukemia he or she may be susceptible to catching infections from other people

Is Leukemia inherited?

No. There is little to no evidence that these diseases are inherited. There are genetic components to the diseases and often there are alterations in the DNA but the cause of these changes is unknown and occurs later in life.

How does Leukemia Develop?

Scientists don't understand the exact causes of leukemia. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some leukemias may develop in patients who have received prior therapy for other cancers.

In general, leukemia is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action. Or other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood could contribute to causing leukemia. The abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy blood cells and causing the signs and symptoms of leukemia.

What is Remission?

There are two classifications for remission:

  • Complete remission means that there are no signs or symptoms of cancer. This can mean the cancer has been cured, or cancer may still be present in the body but was at such a low level as to be undetectable.
  • Partial remission refers to the point when few signs and symptoms of cancer remain, however there is a noticeable decrease of cancer cells. 

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