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What is leukemia? Symptoms, causes and how it affects your body

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Supernatural actress Nicki Aycox died on Sunday at the age of 47 after a two years long battle with the deadly disease leukemia. Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Let’s read its full definition, symptoms, causes and how it affects one’s body.

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer, characterized by the high growth of abnormal blood cells. The uncontrolled growth takes place in bone marrow — where maximum of body’s blood is made. Leukemia cells are usually white blood cells. Its name leukemia comes from the Greek words for “white” (leukos) and “blood” (haima).

Unlike other types of cancer, leukemia doesn’t form a tumor that shows up in imaging tests, such as CT scans or X-rays.

There are many types of leukemia and some of them are more common in children, while others are mainly belong to adults. Treatment of leukemia depends on it type and other factors.

How does leukemia develop?

The disease begins in bone marrow, the soft spongy tissue in the inner cavity of a human’s bones, where the body’s blood cells are made. The blood cells go through several stages before reaching their fully mature forms. The mature or normal blood cells include:

• Red blood cells: These are the cells that carry oxygen and other vital materials to all tissues and organs in the body.

• White blood cells: These cells fight infection.

• Platelets: Cells that help the blood clot.

These cells, in the process of developing blood cells, start as hematopoietic (hemo = blood, poiesis = make) stem cells. The stem cells, thereafter, develop into either myeloid (MAI-uh-loyd) cells or lymphoid (LIM-foyd) cells. If the blood cells were to continue to develop normally then the mature forms of these cells are as follows:

• Myeloid cells develop into red blood cells, platelets and particular types of white blood cells (basophils, eosinophils and neutrophils).

• Lymphoid cells build into certain white blood cells (lymphocytes and natural killer cells).

Now in case when somebody has leukemia, one of these developing blood cells begins to multiply abnormally or out of control. These abnormal cells are called leukemia cells that begin to take over the space inside of the bone marrow. They crowd out the cells trying to develop into healthy blood cells.

How does leukemia affect the body?

Having too many leukemia cells and too few normal cells is harmful for many reasons:

• Leukemia cells serve no purpose in keeping your body healthy.

• Normal blood cells have very little space and support to mature and multiply inside of your bone marrow because the leukemia cells overtake them leaving no space.

• Fewer red blood cells, healthy white blood cells and platelets are made and released into the blood. As a result, the body’s organs and tissues won’t get the oxygen needed to work properly. Also, the body won’t be able to fight infections or form blood clots when needed.

Types of leukemia?

• Acute lymphocytic leukemia

• Acute myelogenous leukemia

• Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

• Chronic myelogenous leukemia

How common is leukemia?

It is the 10th most common type of cancer in the US, accounting for 3.2% of all new cases.

Symptoms of leukemia?

• Fatigue, tiring easily.

• Fever or night sweats.

• Frequent infections.

• Shortness of breath.

• Pale skin.

• Unexplained weight loss.

• Bone/joint pain or tenderness.

• Pain or full feeling under your ribs on the left side.

• Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, groin or stomach, an enlarged spleen or liver.

• Bruising and bleeding easily, including nosebleeds, bleeding gums, a rash that looks like tiny red spots in skin (petechiae) or purplish/darkened skin patches.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

Results from routine blood work can alert the healthcare provider that a person may have an acute or chronic form of leukemia that requires further testing. Or they may recommend a workup if a person has leukemia symptoms.

How is leukemia treated?

Treatments for leukemia depend on the type of leukemia a person has, his or her age and overall health, and if the disease has spread to other organs or tissues.

Common treatments:

• Chemotherapy

• Immunotherapy

• Targeted therapy

• Radiation therapy

• Hematopoietic cell transplant (stem cell or bone marrow transplant):

• Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy

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