About Leukemia

Like other diseases of the blood-forming system, leukemias are a type of blood cancer. There are various kinds of leukemia, and in many cases the only way to treat them is with a blood stem cell transplant. Leukemias occur when abnormal progenitors of white blood cells proliferate uncontrollably, crowding out healthy blood components.

Leukemias are divided into two groups, depending on which subgroup of white blood cells the abnormal progenitors developed from: myeloid and lymphocytic. Myeloid leukemias develop from progenitors in the bone marrow, lymphocytic leukemias from those in the lymphatic system.

Leukemias can be acute or chronic. Acute forms, which can even occur in children, usually progress very quickly and can be fatal if left untreated. However, early action and intervention can stop the disease from spreading and often leads to a full recovery. Chronic leukemias tend to appear around middle age. They develop slowly over years and often are not able to be cured.

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The four most common types of leukemia are:

ALL = acute lymphocytic leukemia

CLL = chronic lymphocytic leukemia

AML = acute myeloid leukemia

CML = chronic myeloid leukemia

Lymphocytic leukemias:

Some white blood cells, lymphocytes, and dendritic cells are formed from lymphatic progenitor cells.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) ALL develops within a few weeks and is accompanied by severe symptoms. In a matter of days, cell division can lead to large quantities of leukemic cells accumulating in the blood and bone marrow. The condition must be treated quickly, but the chances of success are higher with ALL than with any other type of leukemia. Treatment consists of intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and possibly a blood stem cell transplant. The survival rate is high, especially among children.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) CLL progresses slowly and can go undetected for up to 20 years, as symptoms do not occur until much later in the disease. Treatment depends on the state of the patient’s health. It usually only begins when their condition requires it or if the disease develops with complications. Treatment options include chemo- and radiotherapy, cortisone, and, for younger patients, blood stem cell transplants.

Myeloid leukemias

The majority of red and white blood cells and platelets are formed from myeloid progenitor cells.

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) Like ALL, AML develops rapidly. It affects the myeloid progenitor cells, heavily impairing the formation of healthy blood cells and causing disruption to the immune system, blood clotting and oxygen supply. The condition must be treated quickly, with intensive chemotherapy, followed by maintenance therapy, and possibly a blood stem cell transplant.

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) Like CLL, CML develops slowly and can go undetected for quite some time before the first symptoms appear. The abnormal blood cells can make the patient more susceptible to infections, impair blood clotting and lead to anemia. Treatment options include blood stem cell transplants, chemotherapy and specialist medications.

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