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Leukaemia is a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow where blood cells are made.


People sometimes confuse leukaemia and lymphoma. Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood; lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system (lymph glands).


There is no single known cause for any of the different types of leukaemia. However, it is important to understand that:

  • Leukaemia is not a condition which can be caught from someone else (contagious)

  • Leukaemia is not passed on from a parent to a child (inherited)


  • Anaemia – due to lack of red blood cells.

  • Weakness, tiredness, shortness of breath, light-headedness, palpitations.

  • Infections – due to lack of normal white blood cells.

  • Infections are more frequent, more severe and last longer.

  • Fever, malaise (general feeling of illness) and sweats.

  • Purpura (small bruises in skin), heavy periods, nosebleeds, bleeding gums.

  • Loss of appetite and weight.


Risk factors

  • Age - most forms of leukaemia are more common in older people. The main exception to this is ALL in which peak incidence is in children

  • Gender - leukaemia is generally more common in males

  • Genetics - although leukaemia is not an inherited disease, there is a slightly higher chance that close relatives of patients may develop some forms of leukaemia. The risk is still very small and there is no cause for anxiety or for screening tests

  • Chemical exposure - being exposed to some chemicals and high levels of radiation may increase the chance of developing leukaemia. These factors account for only a very small proportion of all cases


The main ways in which leukaemia is treated are:

  • Chemotherapy - cell-killing drugs. Steroids are normally used along with chemotherapy for lymphoid leukaemia

  • Radiation therapy - usually only for stem cell transplant or local disease e.g. in spleen

  • Targeted therapy - drugs which specifically recognise and kill leukaemia cells

  • Biological therapy - treatments which use the immune system to destroy leukaemia cells. Often these use antibodies against markers on the leukaemia – these are known as monoclonal antibodies.

  • Stem cell transplant - Younger/fitter patients may be given a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). This may be done using your own healthy stem cells or stem cells from a donor. This is most commonly done for acute leukaemia if chemotherapy does not cure the disease.



Culled from Staywellworld blog post dated April 28, 2017.

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