Types of Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow that affects almost 34,000 newly-diagnosed people in the US each year. It took doctors centuries to recognize exactly how leukemia affects the blood, but in the 20 th century medical technology finally became sophisticated enough to divide leukemia into two groups, called lymphatic and myleogenous. Lymphatic leukemia causes the bone marrow to produce too many immature white blood cells which overwhelm healthy blood cells. Myleogenous leukemia prevents stem cells in the bone marrow from developing into either red or white cells, which flood throughout the body.

There are many different types of conditions that are grouped together under the broad term "leukemia," but the most common types of this insidious blood cancer are:

Acute leukemias differ from chronic leukemias in that acute diseases have immediate repercussions, while chronic conditions have extended latency periods. Children are especially susceptible to acute leukemias, because these conditions are characterized by a rapid buildup of malignant blood cells and require immediate treatment to prevent spread into other bodily systems. Chronic leukemias primarily affect older adults, but are as dangerous, for prolonged malignancy over the course of a lifetime can result in a medical emergency called a "blast crisis," characterized by a sudden increase in cancerous blood cells.

In any event, leukemia needs immediate treatment. Even people with chronic leukemia and no apparent symptoms need constant monitoring to prevent a blast crisis. If you have been exposed to benzene, then consult a doctor right away. Your life is too important to do otherwise.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, or AML, is the most commonly diagnosed type of adult leukemia. The cancer is caused when the bone marrow produces stem cells that fail to fully mature into red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. These immature, malignant cells rapidly spread through the blood stream and can affect any number of vital organs, the spinal chord, and other healthy tissues. AML must be treated immediately because if left unchecked it can cause serious injury or death. In 2005, the National Cancer Institute reported that there were over 11,960 new cases of AML, and almost 10,000 deaths. Even proper treatment of AML yields only a 60-70% remission rate, and only approximately 25% of people who go into remission survive past 3 years.

The lethality of AML is derived partly from misdiagnosis of its symptoms. Like many other forms of leukemia, AML shares symptoms with many other less fatal conditions. In fact, advanced AML is often confused with the flu or common cold! Some of the common symptoms of AML include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anemia
  • Increased bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae - flat, pin-head sized spots under the skin caused by bleeding
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Persistent infections

Unfortunately, unless a doctor knows what to specifically look for, these symptoms are often misdiagnosed, with often catastrophic results for the victim. It is important to be assertive with your doctor to assure your health is protected. Your life could be at stake.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, or ALL, is a painful and tragic "hematological malignancy" that often affects the bone marrow of young children and older adults. The bone marrow serves as a continuously working "factory" for white blood cells, which the body uses to fight infection and disease. Because these cells are in constant production and travel to every part of the body, any kind of illness that affects the blood has immediate repercussions on the body. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is a disease that causes the bone marrow to malfunction and rapidly produce cancerous white blood cells, which quickly spread throughout the body to other systems, potentially causing cancer where they settle.

If left untreated, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is fatal. Because these dangerous white blood cells replicate so rapidly, unchecked ALL can quickly invade the central nervous system and cause an excruciating and agonizing death. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of ALL are common enough to go unrecognized by anyone but a doctor. These symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Frequent infections or fever
  • Weight loss and/or loss of appetite
  • Increased bruising or bleeding from wounds
  • Bone pain or joint pains caused by the spread of malignant cells to the surface of the bone or into the joint from the marrow cavity
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, liver and/or spleen

If you have these symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately. Unchecked ALL is one of the deadliest leukemias, and early diagnosis allows doctors a greater range of treatment options.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, or CML, is similar to Acute Myleogenous Leukemia, but differs in the intensity of the disease. In CML, the bone marrow produces stem cells that fail to develop into necessary blood cells, but fails to do so over a much longer period of time. Even though CML is not as immediately fatal as AML, regular checkups are necessary to monitor CML to prevent it from becoming acute. While most people never feel the effects of Chronic Myleogenous Leukemia, but when they do some of the symptoms are:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

While the symptoms of AML usually result in earlier detection, CML often goes unnoticed for years, which can result in what doctors term a "blast crisis." A blast crisis occurs when myeloblasts build up over a period of years and suddenly flood the blood stream with unhealthy, undeveloped, and malignant blood cells. This explosion of cancerous cells exhibits the same dangerous conditions of AML. As unhealthy myeloid cells out produce healthy white blood cells, many patients develop dangerous infections.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia is one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose and treat, but with proper maintenance, many people can lead relatively normal lives. Most doctors agree that preventing a blast crisis is key to CML treatment, but new discoveries are made each day, each with the promise of a brighter day for leukemia patients.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Almost 9,000 people every year are diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, or CML. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is a condition characterized by the overproduction of white blood cells which cause the victim to become much more susceptible to infections or diseases. Unfortunately there is no total cure for CLL, so most doctors usually seek to only treat the symptoms of the disease and attempt to prevent a "blast crisis." With proper maintenance and treatment, CLL has a 77% survival rate.

The stage and progression of the cancer often affects the treatment a doctor will pursue. Because patients with CLL can often live healthy, active lives for years if not decades, doctors will often pursue a "wait and see approach" to treating CLL. Also, because CLL is incurable, doctors have found that early treatment has no significant effect on the length or quality of life of CLL patients. Therefore there is no benefit to prescribing aggressive radiation or chemotherapy to early stage patients, for the resulting health consequences do not outweigh the benefits of treatment. When the disease is advanced enough to require medical intervention, doctors often elect to use chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplants to stave off the worst effects of the disease.

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Types of Leukemia: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), andChronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML).