September is Leukemia Awareness Month

Leukemia imageLeukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. The disease develops when blood cells produced in the bone marrow grow out of control. An estimated 48,610 new cases of leukemia are expected to be diagnosed in 2013.

Leukemia can be classified as acute or chronic based on the development rate of symptoms and dominant cell type. Normal blood is made up of fluid called plasma and three main types of blood cells. Plasma is mainly water, but contains minerals proteins and antibodies. The three major blood cell types are white cells, red cells, and platelets. Each type of blood cell has a specific function. White blood cells also called leukocytes help the body fight infections and other diseases. Red blood cells are called erythrocytes; make up half the blood’s total volume. They contain hemoglobin which picks up oxygen from the lungs and carries it to the body’s organ. Platelets or thrombocytes help form blood clots to control bleeding.

When Leukemia occurs, the body produces large numbers of abnormal or immature blood cells. Leukemia cells look different and act different than normal blood cells and are often unable to perform their intended functions. Although leukemia is a cancer of the blood, it may affect other organs. The development of leukemia has been associated with:

  • Exposure to ionizing radiation
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and toxins
  • Familial susceptibility
  • Genetic disorders

Common clinical manifestations include:

  • pallor
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • abnormal bleeding and bruising
  • recurrent infections

Tests used to diagnose this disease may include: lab work, bone marrow aspirations or biopsy.  After a diagnosis is made a medical doctor whose specialty is hematological disorders will be involved. To learn more about this disease and treatment options contact the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) or National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER. A local resource is American Cancer Society at 5020 Tamiami Trail N Unit 108. Phone 261-0337.