Leukemia refers to the cancer of the blood-forming tissues, like the bone marrow. The cells of these tissues undergo abnormal division and continue growing without control. The white blood cells produced by these abnormal cells are more in number and do not carry out the functions normally. Leukemia is categorized into different types. Based on the severity of the condition, leukemia is grouped into acute or chronic.
The symptoms of chronic leukemia appear after several years and the disease progresses slowly over a period of time. Acute leukemia progresses at a rapid rate and the symptoms appear soon. Based on the type of white blood cells affected, leukemia may be lymphocytic or myelogenous. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type among adults, while in children, acute lymphoblastic leukemia is more common. The actual cause of this disease is not yet known. But a number of factors are known to increase the risk of leukemia.
Some of the common risk factors include:
- Radiation – Exposure to high levels of radiation through radiation therapy or diagnostic tests may increase the risk of getting this disease.
- Exposure to chemicals – Exposure to chemicals like benzene at the workplace is yet another factor for enhanced risk of leukemia.
- Inherited diseases – Certain inherited diseases, like Down’s syndrome, may increase the risk of developing acute leukemia.
- Family history – This is especially true of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
- Chemotherapy – Certain types of cancer drugs may increase the chance of acute myeloid leukemia.
In many cases, none of the risk factors may be seen, and those who have two or more of the risk factors may not develop the disease at all. People with leukemia may not have any observable symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Swelling in the lymph nodes
- Fever and night sweats
- Frequent infections
- Extreme weakness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Joint pain
- Bleeding from the gums and nose
- Lack of appetite
- Pain on the left side of the abdomen due to enlarged spleen
Many of the above said symptoms may be seen in normal infections too. Meet with your doctor if you have some of the symptoms above. In some cases, the doctor may keep you under surveillance to monitor if symptoms are developing.