The Facts Behind Leukemia


Each year, 3,500 American children are diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow, which is responsible for white blood cells. Because white blood cells are so important to the immune system, leukemia can open the door to opportunistic infections. Symptoms include painless swollen lymph nodes, bleeding or bruising easily, joint pain, unexplained rapid weight loss, weakness, fatigue, and night sweats. It is one of the commonest types of childhood cancer—one in every four pediatric cancer patients is diagnosed with leukemia. However, while leukemia is generally presented as a childhood cancer 90 percent of leukemia cases are diagnosed in adults, and adults typically have a different form of the disease.

In fact, the risk of leukemia actually rises with age. The reason it is associated with children is not because it is particularly common among children, but because it is one of the few cancers to affect children in significant number at all. The causes of leukemia re not known, except for a handful of causative factors that account for a very small percentage of cases. However there are known risk factors in addition to age. Certain chemicals, such as benzine, can lead to leukemia, as can some chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer elsewhere in the body. Radiation exposure is also a risk factor. Certain genetic disorders can lead to leukemia, and it can run in families.

One commonly blamed culprit is power lines, but scientists have found the grid innocent in causing leukemia. In the latest of a number of studies seeking to get to the bottom of the purported link, children in Great Britain born between 1962 and 2008 were no found to be more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia if they grew up near overhead power lines than their peers who were raised father away.

Recent research into how the body fights off leukemia has presented researchers with a possible new avenue of treatment for the disease. The immune system looks for a chemical signature that identifies lymphoma, and then destroys it. However, when leukemia is treated by chemotherapy, this isn’t necessarily enough to eradicate the surviving few tumor cells. By mimicking this signature, doctors can keep the immune cells responsible for protecting against leukemia to remain on guard.

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