Leukemia: Cancer of the Blood Cells

Leukemia is a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow and causes abnormal red and white blood cells to form. Blood cells are critical for immune function and supplying oxygen to other cells. The abnormal cells crowd out normal cells, impairing function.



There may be no symptoms of leukemia until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. If symptoms are present, they may include swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, pain in bones or joints, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, excessive bleeding or an enlarged liver. Leukemia cannot be diagnosed from symptoms alone. If you are experiencing some symptoms and are worried about the possibility of leukemia, you should see a doctor for testing, as many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.


The cause of leukemia is unknown, but there are risk factors that make some individuals more likely to develop it than others. Risk factors for leukemia are similar to those for many many other cancers, such as advanced age, smoking, radiation exposure, and having a genetic predisposition to develop the disease.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors will generally first take a full medical history and perform a physical exam. If symptoms indicate the possibility of leukemia, more testing may be ordered. Doctors can diagnose leukemia by taking blood samples and examining the individual cells for abnormalities. A blood count test may be ordered to detect the levels of different types of cells. A CT scan may be performed if leukemia is suspected, since the disease can affect organs such as the liver and spleen.


Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the main forms of treatment for leukemia. Treatment may depend on the age of the patient, how far the disease has progressed, and what type of leukemia is being treated. Some forms of leukemia are more aggressive than others and thus require more aggressive forms of treatment.

What is acute lymphoma?

Acute lymphoma, a type of leukemia, occurs mostly in adults but can also form in children. It is usually lethal. It affects mostly white blood cells and causes immature cells known as lymphoblasts to accumulate in large numbers. Acute lymphoma attacks the immune system, so other infections are more likely to develop in affected individuals.