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Leukemia refers to a group of cancers that start in the white blood cells; the MayoClinic.com states that the leukemia causes the body to produce a large number of abnormally functioning white cells, which are ineffective in fighting infections. Besides being located in the white blood cells, some types of leukemia can spread to blood-forming tissues, like the lymphatic system and bone marrow.
Leukemia can affect both children and adults, though some forms are more common during childhood. The National Cancer Institute states that in 2009, 44,790 people were diagnosed with a form of leukemia, and 21,870 people passed away.
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Types of Leukemia
The MayoClinic.com states that there are four types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). MedlinePlus states that acute lymphocytic leukemia is a fast growing cancer that accounts for 80 percent of childhood leukemia cancers, with the age of onset between three and seven; acute lymphocytic leukemia can also be diagnosed in adults. Besides being present in the white blood cells, this type of leukemia can be found in the spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.
Acute myeloid leukemia is another acute form of leukemia, which is found in the bone marrow. Unlike acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia is rare under the age of 40.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is also rare in people under the age of 40; however, this type of leukemia increases a specific type of white blood cell: B cells. The last type of leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, starts in the bone marrow.
Chronic myleogenous leukemia can be diagnosed in both children and adults, though the NIH notes that the onset in adults is around middle age; this type of leukemia also accounts for seven to 20 percent of all leukemia cases.
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Warning Signs of Leukemia
The MayoClinic.com notes that a problem with noticing the early warning signs of leukemia is that many of them resemble flu symptoms; the severity of the symptoms are dependent on the amount of abnormal blood cells present in the patient's body. Therefore, if the patient has a slow developing form of leukemia, it can take many years before the warning signs are noticed.
The patient may notice tiny red spots on her skin, which the MayoClinic.com terms as petechiae. Another physical symptom is swollen lymph nodes, though the patient may also have an enlarged spleen or liver. If the patient has an enlarged spleen, she can feel extra pressure under her left ribs.
If injured, the patient may bleed or bruise easily, even if the wound was minor. Persistent fatigue and weakness are also warning signs of leukemia, as well as bone pain and tenderness. The patient may also be prone to frequent infections. Other warning signs include fever, chills, and shortness of breath during physical activity.
Some leukemia types have specific warning signs. Warning signs of both acute forms of leukemia include bleeding in the gums or nose, and unusual paleness of the skin. In female patients, they can have irregular menstruations, such as bleeding in between periods or missing periods. Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may also experience early satiety, unintentional weight loss, and excessive sweating. Another warning sign of chronic myleogenous leukemia is night sweats.
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MayoClinic.com: Leukemia (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/leukemia/DS00351)
National Cancer Institute: Leukemia Home Page (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/leukemia)
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000541.htm)
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000542.htm)
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000532.htm)
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000570.htm)