WHAT IS LEUKEMIA, WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW IS IT TREATED?
Leukemia is a malignant disease (cancer) of the bone marrow and blood. It is characterized by the uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Leukemia is divided into four categories: myelogenous or lymphocytic, each of which can be acute or chronic. The terms myelogenous or lymphocytic denote the cell type involved. The are four major types of leukemia.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer. Other names for ALL are acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia. About 5,430 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with ALL a year. It is the most common type of leukemia in children under age 15. However, people can get ALL at any age. Fortunately, most children with ALL are cured of their disease after treatment.
Signs and Symptoms Some signs or symptoms of ALL are similar to other more common and less severe illnesses. Specific blood tests and bone marrow tests are needed to make a diagnosis. A person with ALL may have:
Pinhead-size red spots under the skin
Prolonged bleeding from minor cuts
Shortness of breath during physical activity
Aches in arms and legs
Black-and-blue marks for no apparent reason
Enlarged lymph nodes
Fever without obvious cause
Causes and Risk Factors
ALL starts with a change to a single cell in the bone marrow. Scientists are studying the exact genetic changes that cause a normal cell to become an ALL cell. Few factors have been associated with an increased risk of developing ALL. Exposure to high doses of radiation therapy used to treat other types of cancer is one known risk factor. Other possible risk factors are continually under study. ALL is not contagious (catching).
ALL occurs at different rates in different geographic locations. There are higher rates in more developed countries and in higher socioeconomic groups. Scientists continue to explore possible relationships with life-style or environmental factors but no firm conclusions have yet been reached. This suggests that many factors may be involved. At the present time there is no known way to prevent most cases of the disease.
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