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In people with leukemia, bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells. The abnormal cells are leukemia cells.

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a form of blood and bone marrow cancer. It has four main types: acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Other types include hairy cell leukemia, chronic myelomoncytic leukemia and juvenile melomonocytic leukemia.

Who develops leukemia?

Having risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll develop leukemia, but the following do increase your risk:

  • benzene exposure (often found in the chemical industry, and in cigarette smoke and gasoline)
  • a family history of leukemia
  • blood disorders (such as myelodysplastic syndrome)
  • chemotherapy
  • Down syndrome
  • HTLV-I (human T-cell leukemia virus type I)
  • radiation exposure (for example, radiation therapy)
  • smoking

What are the symptoms of leukemia?

Depending on the type, people with leukemia may not have any symptoms. Others may experience:

  • bleeding or bruising easily
  • fatigue or weakness
  • fevers or night sweats
  • frequent infections
  • headaches, vomiting, confusion, seizures (if the brain is affected)
  • joint or bone pain
  • swelling in the abdomen
  • swollen, painless lymph nodes
  • unexplained weight loss

It’s important to note that any number of other health conditions can trigger these symptoms, so it’s important to see your physician if you’re experiencing any of them.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

In some cases, leukemia will be diagnosed with a simple blood test and a bone marrow biopsy (a procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope).

How is leukemia treated?

Treatment for leukemia varies depending on a variety of factors, including the type of leukemia, whether leukemia cells were found in your cerebrospinal fluid and your age and individual health. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, biological or targeted therapy and stem cell transplantation. Your physician can determine the best treatment for you.

To learn more about cancer services at The Daniel and Gloria Blumenthal Cancer Center, call 201-634-5339.

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