What is Leukemia? Leukemia is a cancer of the marrow and blood. European physicians in the19th century were the earliest observers of patients who had markedly increased white cell counts. The term “Weisses Blut”or “white blood”emerged as a designation for the disorder. Later, the term “leukemia,”which is derived from the Greek words “leukos,”meaning “white,”and “haima,”meaning “blood,”was used to indicate the disease. The major forms of leukemia are divided into four categories. The terms “myelogenous”or “lymphocytic”denote the cell type involved. Myelogenous and lymphocytic leukemia each have an acute or chronic form.
Most patients feel a loss of well-being. They tire more easily and may feel short of breath during physical activity. They may have a pale complexion from anemia. There may be signs of a very low platelet count. These include black and blue marks that occur for no apparent reason or because of a minor injury, the appearance of pinhead-sized red spots under the skin called petechiae or prolonged bleeding from minor cuts. Discomfort in the bones and joints may occur. Fever in the absence of an obvious cause is common. Leukemic lymphoblasts may accumulate in the lymphatic system and lymph nodes can be enlarged. The leukemic cells can collect on the lining of the brain and spinal cord and lead to headache or vomiting.
Diagnosis Blood and marrow cells are examined to diagnose the disease. In addition to low red cell and platelet counts, examination of the stained (dyed) blood cells with a light microscope will usually show the presence of leukemic blast cells. This is confirmed by examination of the marrow with bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, which almost always shows leukemic cells The blood and/or marrow cells are also used for studies of the number and shape of chromosomes
What is Leukemia
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Thus, the four major types of leukemia are acute or chronic myelogenous and acute or chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The term “acute lymphocytic leukemia”is synonymous with “acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”The latter term is used more frequently to denote this disease in children. Acute leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease that primarily affects cells that are not fully developed or differentiated. These immature cells cannot carry out their normal functions. Chronic leukemia progresses slowly and permits the growth of greater numbers of developed cells. In general, these mature cells can carry out some of their normal functions. The ability to measure specific features of cells (including appearance, chromosome and gene abnormalities and immune characteristics) has led to further subclassification of the major categories of leukemia. The categories and subsets allow physicians to decide what treatment works best for a given cell type and how quickly the disease may progress.