Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells that help fight infection. With leukemia, your bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones, produces abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal white blood cells grow rapidly, spread out into the bloodstream, and crowd out healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
The abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection as effectively as the normal white blood cells, resulting in increased infections. The abnormal white blood cells also accumulate in the organs of the body, such as the spleen, liver, lymph nodes, testes and brain, and interfere with normal organ function.
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Treatment for leukemia depends on the type of leukemia a person has. It also depends on whether the patient has been treated for leukemia before. A doctor also considers the patient's age, symptoms, personal preferences, and general health when making recommendations for a treatment plan.
It is important that a person who is diagnosed with leukemia be treated at a center with doctors and nurses experienced in treating leukemia. If this is not possible, the patient's doctor should discuss the patient's treatment plan with a specialist.
Many patients want to learn all they can about their disease and their treatment choices so that they can take an active part in decisions about their care. They are likely to have many questions and concerns about their treatment options. Most patients want to know how they will function after treatment and whether they will have to change their normal activities. The doctor is the best person to answer a patient's questions, such as what treatment choices are, how successful it is expected to be and what the risks and side effects may be.
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Certain factors can make one person more likely to get leukemia than another person. These are called risk factors. Although such risk factors do exist, a person who has one or more risk factors will not necessarily get leukemia. In fact, a person can have all the risk factors and still not get leukemia, or he or she can have no known risk factors and still get the disease.
Some risk factors, such as having a rare inherited disease, are out of a person's control. Other risk factors, such as smoking, are lifestyle choices a person can control. The following are known risk factors for leukemia:
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