Leukemia is a form of cancer that begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow—the soft, inner part of the bones. Leukemia, which literally means "white blood" in Greek, occurs when there is an excess of abnormal white blood cells in the blood.Known as leukocytes, these cells are so plentiful in some patients that the blood actually has a whitish tinge.
As leukemia progresses, the cancer interferes with the body's production of other types of blood cells, including red blood cells and platelets. This results in anemia (low numbers of red cells) and bleeding problems, in addition to the increased risk of infection caused by white cell abnormalities.
Causes of Leukemia
Being exposed to large amounts of radiation.
Being exposed to certain chemicals in the workplace.
Past chemotherapy or radiation for another cancer. (This is rare, and not all chemotherapies raise your leukemia risk.)
Working with chemicals like benzene or formaldehyde
These are only risk factors. Most people who have one of the risk factors do not get leukemia.
If you think your child is at risk for leukemia, talk with your doctor.
It is now known that all cancers, including leukemia, begin as a mutation in the genetic material—the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)—within certain cells. The external or internal causes of such change probably add up over a lifetime. Leukemia begins when one or more white blood cells experience DNA loss or damage. Those errors are copied and passed on to subsequent generations of cells.
There is conflicting evidence about whether electromagnetic field (EMF) is a potential risk factor for developing leukemia. Several large studies are in progress at this time to further investigate this question. EMFs are a type of energy that occurs near very high-voltage power lines.
Symptoms of Leukemia
Infection: A child with leukemia may develop an infection that doesn't respond to antibiotics, have a high fever, and become very sick. This is because of a deficiency of normal white blood cells, particularly mature granuloctyes. Although leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells and children with leukemia may have very high white blood cell counts, the leukemic cells do not protect against infection the way normal white blood cells do.
Such symptoms are not sure signs of leukemia. An infection or another problem also could cause these symptoms. Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat the problem.
Doctors may find chronic leukemia during a routine exam before any symptoms arise. This form of leukemia may develop over longer periods covering months or years before symptoms are apparent. When symptoms do appear, they tend to be mild and worsen gradually.
Treatment of Leukemia
Stem cell transplantation (SCT) to enable treatment with high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy; and
Surgery to remove an enlarged spleen or to install a venous access device (large plastic tube) to give medications and withdraw blood samples.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy rays to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. You may receive radiation in one specific area of your body where there is a collection of leukemia cells, or you may receive radiation directed at your whole body.
Leukemia patients often find it helpful to take a family member or close friend along to these consultations in order to take notes and assist in remembering some of the points of the discussion. For children with leukemia, such is always the case.
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