Leukemia (Blood Cancer) - FAQ

Frequently asked questions

A: Leukemia is a blood cancer that affects your bone marrow and lymphatic system.

It can take several forms and spread at different rates, but most commonly affects the production of healthy white blood cells that protect against infection and disease.

A: Some blood cancers, such as myelodysplastic syndromes, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, can be inherited. A family history of blood cancer can cause genetic mutations (changes) in your DNA.

In leukemia patients, mutations are genetic, but not often hereditary.

A: Leukemia can spread to other organs through the blood. Starting from the bone marrow. it can spread to the lymphatic system (a part of the immune system) and other parts of your body, such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and central nervous system.

A: There are currently no at-home tests available for leukemia. If you experience symptoms of leukemia, consult your doctor. Your doctor may advise blood tests, bone marrow biopsy and other tests to confirm your diagnosis.

A: Thalassemia is not blood cancer, but an inherited blood disorder. It affects your body's ability to produce haemoglobin and red blood cells. A person with thalassemia will have insufficient red blood cells and haemoglobin.

A: If you have leukemia, your blood test may show abnormal levels of red or white blood cells or platelets. This test may also reveal the presence of leukemia cells and abnormally high levels of white blood cells.

A: Acute myeloid leukemia has a higher chance of relapse. This happens usually within 2 years of initial treatment.

A: As with other types of cancer, leukemia is not contagious.

A: Currently, there is no known way to prevent leukemia. Steps to reduce your risk may include:

  • Avoid tobacco and smoking
  • Avoid exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals
  • Be physically active
  • Consume a healthy diet

A: Leukemia is not contagious, and hence cannot be sexually transmitted. However, your doctor may advise you to abstain from intercourse for a period of time if your total white cell or platelet counts are low, or for other medical reasons.

A: According to the National Cancer Institute in the US, the average 5-year survival rate for all types of leukemia is 65.8%. That suggests that around 66 out of every 100 individuals with leukemia will live for at least 5 years following diagnosis.

A: Leukemia can cause bone or joint pain. This happens because your bone marrow expands due to the accumulation of abnormal white blood cells. Depending on the location, this pain might be either sharp or dull. The long bones of the arms and legs, as well as the ribs and sternum of the rib cage, are usually affected the most by leukemia-related bone pain.

A: It is best to consult a doctor to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Spinal tap
  • X-rays and other imaging tests
  • Genetic testing

A: Your doctor may advise you to avoid foods such as:

  • Raw or undercooked foods to reduce the risk of infection
  • Greasy, spicy and high-fibre foods
  • Certain dietary supplements that reduce the effectiveness of medications used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia

A: Children with Down syndrome are more likely to develop childhood leukemia if they have three copies of chromosome 21.

Chromosome 21 is one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans, and most people have two copies of chromosome 21.

This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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