Leukemia, a type of cancer, affects certain cells in the body that form blood. It is similar to lymphoma and myeloma, which also affect the blood, but is unique because of its effects on the bone marrow and blood; other blood cancers attack the lymph system or plasma cells. Leukemia begins in the marrow and, if undetected and/or untreated, will spread throughout the body, causing an overproduction of abnormal white blood cells as it goes. This type of cancer can afflict people of all ages and from all walks of life.
What Causes Leukemia?
There is no one specific cause for leukemia, and thus there is no way to prevent it. There are certain groups of people who are more likely to get leukemia, though, and certain risk factors that contribute to its likelihood. Even people who don’t fall into these categories may still be diagnosed with leukemia, but people who do fall into these categories are more likely to be stricken by the blood cancer:People age 60 and overIndividuals with Down syndromeSmokers and/or those who work in a smoke-filled environment People with the blood disorder known as myelodysplastic syndromePrevious recipients of radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments Those already infected by the human T-cell leukemia virus (spread by blood transfusions, child birth, intravenous drug use and/or sexual contact)The Different Categories of Leukemia
There are different types of the disease, and leukemia can be categorized as either acute or chronic. Cases identified as acute leukemia develop from early cells that frequently divide and continue dividing until the normal blood cells begin doing the same. Chronic cases of leukemia develop in mature cells, but the cells are abnormal in some way and have been able to thrive and accumulate despite their abnormality.
Whether the leukemia is acute or chronic, it can still be further classified as either myelogenous or lymphocytic. Myelogenous leukemia begins in myeloid cells, and can develop in many different ways. If it is acute, it is referred to as acute myelogenous leukemia, or AML, and if it is chronic, it is referred to as chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. Lymphocytic leukemia begins in white blood cells still in the blood marrow, which are known as lymphocytes or lympho-blasts. If the lymphocytic leukemia is acute, it is referred to as acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL. If it is chronic, it is referred to as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL.