Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, such as the bone marrow and the lymphatic system, and causes large amounts of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood stream (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Unlike normal blood cells, leukemia cells don’t die when they become old or damaged. Because of this, leukemia cells can build up and crowd out the normal blood cells making it harder for the body to get oxygen to the tissues, control bleeding, or fight infections. In 2013, more than 43,000 adults and 5,000 children and teens will be diagnosed with this disease in the United States (National Cancer Institute, 2013). Leukemia’s are grouped by the speed of progression (acute or chronic) as well as by the type of blood cell that is involved (lymphocytes or myelocytes). The four main types of leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myelocytic leukemia (AML),and chronic myelocytic leukemia (CML) (Medicinenet, 2014). ALL, AML and CML are thought to be caused by exposure to radiation or to chemicals like benzene. CLL shows the highest family incidence of any major blood cancer, leading scientists to believe that heredity along with exposure to additional risk factors are the cause (Klosterman, 2006).
Leukemia is different from most other cancers because it does not produce masses or tumors which makes it more challenging to notice (Bozzone, Ph.D., 2009). The acute types of leukemia, ALL and AML, symptoms are seen a lot faster than in the chronic types of leukemia, CLL and CML, where symptoms do not typically appear right away. Some common symptoms of leukemia are fever or chills, persistent fatigue and weakness, frequent or severe infections, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen or liver, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nose bleeds, tiny red spots in the skin (petechiae), excessive night sweats and bone pain or tenderness (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Leukemia can be fatal, but with early diagnosis and treatment it can be put into remission.
Diagnosis of leukemia usually starts with a physical exam given by a doctor. The doctor will check for physical signs such as swelling of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen and palor from anemia. Blood work such as a white blood cell count, cytogenic analysis and immunophenotyping is usually done in the laboratory. A high white blood cell count is common in people with leukemia. The cytogenetic analysis compares traits of the abnormal white blood cells to traits of normal white blood cells. The immunophenotyping helps figure out exactly what kind of white blood cell started the leukemia clone. If a doctor thinks that a person may have leukemia, a sample of bone marrow will be studied next. This is important because some people with leukemia have a normal number of white blood cells or normal looking white blood cells in the blood. Doctors may also use a chest x ray or CT Scan to examine the sizes and shapes of the liver,...