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Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Many types of leukemia exist. Some forms of leukemia are most common in children. Other forms of leukemia occur mostly in adults. Leukemia usually starts in the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal white blood cells, which don't function properly. Treatment for leukemia can be complex — depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. But there are strategies and resources that can help to make your treatment successful.
Causes of Leukemia
Scientists don't understand the exact causes of leukemia. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
How leukemia forms
In general, leukemia occurs when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action. The mutations cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells, causing the signs and symptoms of leukemia.
How leukemia is classified
Doctors classify leukemia based on its speed of progression and the type of cells involved.
The first type of classification is by how fast the leukemia progresses:
The second type of classification is by type of white blood cell affected:
Types of leukemia
The major types of leukemia are:
Other, rarer types of leukemia exist, including hairy cell leukemia.
Signs & Symptoms of Leukemia
Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms include:
Diagnosis of Leukemia
Doctors often find chronic leukemia in a routine blood test, before symptoms begin. If this happens, or if you have signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, you may undergo the following diagnostic exams:
You may undergo additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the type of leukemia and its extent in your body. Certain types of leukemia are classified into stages, indicating the severity of the disease. Your leukemia's stage helps your doctor determine a treatment plan.
Treatments of Leukemia
Treatment for your leukemia depends on many factors. Your doctor determines your leukemia treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.
Common treatments used to fight leukemia include:
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