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Leukaemia: Causes and Symptoms

Leukaemia: Causes and Symptoms

Leukaemia is a blood or bone marrow cancer. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. A problem with blood cell production can lead to leukaemia. It usually affects the white blood cells or leukocytes.

Many types of leukaemia exist. Some forms of leukaemia are more common in children. Other forms of leukaemia occur mostly in adults.

Leukaemia is most frequent in persons over the age of 55, but it is also the most common cancer among children under the age of 15. Acute leukaemia begins and progresses swiftly, but chronic leukaemia worsens over time.

Image credits: Healthline


When the DNA of growing blood cells, primarily white cells, is damaged, this cancer develops. The blood cells multiply and divide at an uncontrollable rate as a result of this.

Healthy blood cells die and are replaced by new ones. These grow in the marrow of the bone marrow.

The aberrant blood cells do not perish at the end of their life cycle as they should. Instead, they expand and take up more room.

As the bone marrow generates more cancer cells, the blood becomes overcrowded, inhibiting the growth and function of healthy white blood cells.

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Cancerous cells eventually outweigh healthy cells in the blood.

Scientists don’t understand the exact causes of leukaemia. It seems to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

How it forms:

In general, leukaemia is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire changes (mutations) in their genetic material or DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. Normally, the DNA tells the cell to grow at a set rate and to die at a set time. In leukaemia, the mutations tell the blood cells to continue growing and dividing.

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When this happens, blood cell production becomes out of control. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, causing the signs and symptoms of leukaemia.

How it is classified

Doctors classify leukaemia based on its speed of progression and the type of cells involved.

The first type of classification is by how fast it progresses:

Acute leukaemia– In acute leukaemia, the abnormal blood cells are immature (blasts). They can’t carry out their normal functions, and they multiply rapidly, so the disease worsens quickly. Acute leukaemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.

Chronic leukaemia– There are many types of chronic leukaemias. Some produce too many cells and some cause too few cells to be produced. Chronic leukaemia involves more-mature blood cells. These blood cells replicate or accumulate more slowly and can function normally for some time. Some forms of chronic leukaemia initially produce no early symptoms and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years.

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The second categorization method is based on the type of white blood cell affected:

Lymphocytic leukaemia is a kind of cancer that affects the blood cells. The lymphoid cells (lymphocytes) that make up lymphoid or lymphatic tissue are affected by this kind of leukaemia. Your immune system is made up of lymphatic tissue.

Myelogenous leukaemia is a kind of cancer that affects the blood. Myeloid cells are affected by this form of leukaemia. Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet-producing cells are all produced by myeloid cells.

Leukaemia comes in a variety of forms.

The following are the most common kinds of leukaemia:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a kind of cancer that affects the white blood cells (ALL). In young children, this is the most frequent kind of leukemia. ALL may happen to adults as well.
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a type of leukemia that affects the blood (AML). AML is a kind of leukemia that is quite frequent. It can affect both children and adults. In adults, AML is the most frequent kind of acute leukemia.
  • Lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a kind of cancer that affects the white blood cells (CLL). You may not require therapy for years if you have CLL, the most prevalent chronic adult leukemia.
  • Myelogenous leukemia is a kind of cancer that affects the white blood cells (CML). Adults are the primary victims of this kind of leukemia. Before entering a phase in which the leukemia cells develop more quickly, a person with CML may experience few or no symptoms for months or years.
  • There are other, less common kinds of leukemia, such as hematological leukemia.


Leukaemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukaemia. Common leukaemia signs and symptoms include:

Fever or chills

Persistent fatigue, weakness

Frequent or severe infections

Losing weight without trying

Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen

Easy bleeding or bruising

Recurrent nosebleeds

Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)

Excessive sweating, especially at night

Bone pain or tenderness

Treatment for leukaemia can be complex — depending on the type of leukaemia and other factors. But some strategies and resources can help make the treatment successful.

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