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Blood Cancer (Leukaemia)

  • What is Leukaemia (Blood Cancer)?

    Leukaemia is the cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. Your blood contains red cells, white cells and platelets. White blood cells are an important part of your immune system and helps to fight infections. In leukaemia, the bone marrow makes immature white blood cells that are called leukaemic cells. These immature cells do not function normally and crowd out the healthy cells.

    Leukaemia can be either acute (worsens quickly) or chronic (worsens slowly). The four types of leukaemia are:

    • Acute myelogenous leukaemia, which is the most common type
    • Acute lymphocytic leukaemia, which is the most common type in young children
    • Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which is common in adults
    • Chronic myelogenous leukaemia, which mainly affects adults
  • Several causes of leukaemia include:

    • Certain inherited disorders, e.g. Down’s syndrome
    • Radiation (e.g. x-ray) or chemical exposure
    • Some viral infections

    Leukaemia can also develop in people who have received certain types of chemotherapy for previous cancer treatment.

  • Leukemia symptoms depend on the stage of the cancer. Symptoms are generally vague and may resemble other conditions. These include:

    • Bleeding or bruising easily or tiny red spots on your skin
    • Bone pain or tenderness
    • Fever or chills
    • Frequent infections
    • Loss of appetite or weight loss
    • Ongoing tiredness or weakness
    • Shortness of breath or excessive sweating, especially at night
    • Swollen lymph nodes (glands), large liver or spleen
  • Treatment depends on the type of leukaemia that you have and can include:

    • Biological therapy to help your immune system to destroy the leukaemic cells
    • Chemotherapy to kill the leukaemic cells, which may require 1 or more drugs
    • Radiation therapy (high-energy x-ray) to kill the leukaemic cells
    • Stem cell or bone marrow transplant to replace the abnormal bone marrow
    • Targeted therapy to stop the growth of the leukaemic cells
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