What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a relatively common, but poorly understood, group
of cancers of the tissues that form blood cells. There are two general categories:
acute and chronic. These groupings are not based on symptoms or duration of
the disease, but on the specific type of cells which are involved in the cancer.
The only way to make the specific diagnosis -- which is essential for proper therapy -- is
with a painful test called a bone marrow biopsy. Leukemia may affect anyone
from children to the elderly. Risk factors are few, although it can also develop
as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for other cancers.
The symptoms of leukemia are diverse and usually nonspecific -- they
can mimic the flu or they can present as the symptoms of severe anemia, or low
blood count: headache, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue. Unexplained weight
loss is often seen as well. Patients often bleed and bruise more easily and
they may have bone or joint pain.
The good news is that many types of leukemia now have a favorable
prognosis, especially in children and young adults. New drug regimens are constantly
being explored and several breakthroughs have recently been discovered. Treatment
regimens are complex and risky, however; whenever possible, patients should
be treated at specialized cancer centers.
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Created: 4/18/2001  - Donnica Moore, M.D.