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American Cancer Society Resources

Leukemia Awareness

Leukemia Awareness

By Jake Konigsberg

 

What is Leukemia?

September is Leukemia Awareness Month which is a time to raise awareness for leukemia, remember those who have lost their lives to the disease, honor and encourage those still fighting, and collect funds for relevant research. Leukemia is a cancer occuring in the blood forming tissue. It often occurs in bone marrow cells or lymphatic system cells.

Types of Leukemia

There are many different types of leukemia. Some of the most common types include:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of leukemia in children, but can also occur in adults. This type of leukemia often starts in the bone marrow and progresses rather quickly by invading the blood. It is lymphocytic which means that it develops from early forms of lymphocytes.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults; however, it can still occur in children. This type of leukemia starts in bone marrow but can quickly spread to the blood and other parts of the body such as the liver and spleen. Unlike acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia develops from cells other than lymphocytes that would eventually become white blood cells. It can also develop from other blood forming cells.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common adult leukemia. This type of leukemia starts in lymphocytes in bone marrow but then spreads to the blood and to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. Someone with this type of leukemia often does not feel symptoms for many years until the leukemia cells build up and spread.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia mainly affects adults. This cancer can be misleading as it starts as a slow growing leukemia and can be like that for months or years but then can become a fast growing acute leukemia. This leukemia is often caused by a genetic change in myeloid cells which are the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells other than lymphocytes.

Prevalence of Leukemia

Leukemia accounts for approximately 4% of all cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths; however, it is the most common type of cancer in children. More specifically, approximately 28% of children cancer diagnoses are from leukemia. In 2019, there were an estimated 475,000 people living with leukemia. While the 5-year survival rate has greatly improved over the past few decades, it is still rather low at 67% from 2010-2016.

Risk Factors and Diagnosis

The following list contains some of the most common risk factors for leukemia which can greatly increase one’s likelihood of developing the cancer:

  • Previous cancer treatments
  • Genetic disorders
  • Smoking
  • Family history of leukemia
  • Certain blood disorders such as idiopathic myelofibrosis

Diagnosing leukemia early is essential to prevent its spread and limit its effects. To ensure leukemia is found early, it is important to know the methods of diagnosis and what to look for. One of the most common forms for diagnosing leukemia are physical tests which look for the common physical traits associated with leukemia– enlargement of the liver or spleen, pale skin, or swelling of lymph nodes. Another common form of diagnosis are blood tests which can help find abnormal levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Blood tests may also reveal the presence of leukemia cells. Another form of leukemia diagnosis is through the use of bone marrow tests as many forms of leukemia begin in bone marrow cells. Bone marrow can be removed and analyzed for leukemia cells.

ACS and Leukemia

ACS is a proud partner of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society which is an organization focused on fighting blood cancers. Through this partnership, ACS has created many educational materials about blood cancers and has provided specific information about diets, exercises, and complementary medicine. ACS also hosts support services and support groups that are available for those with leukemia. Additionally, to make treatment more accessible and remove the barrier of travel and hotel expenses, ACS has Hope Lodges which provide free, temporary, and convenient access to treatments for those with leukemia and other cancers.