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Blood Cancer (Leukaemia)

  • What is Leukaemia (Blood Cancer)?

    Leukaemia is the cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. Your blood contains red cells, white cells and platelets. In leukaemia, the bone marrow makes immature white blood cells that are called leukaemic cells. These immature cells do not function normally, and crowd out the healthy cells.

    Leukaemia can be either acute (gets worse quickly) or chronic (gets worse slowly). The four types of leukaemia are:

    • Acute Myelogenous Leukaemia, which is the most common type
    • Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia, which is the most common type in young children
    • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, which is common in adults
    • Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia, which mainly affects adults
  • There are several causes of leukaemia. These include:

    • Certain inherited disorders (Down’s syndrome)
    • Radiation (X-ray) or chemical exposure
    • Some viruses

    Leukaemia can also develop in people who have received certain types of chemotherapy (for previous cancer treatment).

  • If you have leukaemia, you may not have any have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they are likely to be:

    • Bleeding or bruising easily or tiny red spots on your skin
    • Bone pain or tenderness
    • Fever or chills
    • Frequent infections
    • Loss of appetite or weight loss
    • On-going tiredness or weakness
    • Shortness of breath or excessive sweating, especially at night
    • Swollen lymph nodes (glands), large liver or spleen
  • The treatment depends on the type of leukaemia that you have, and may be:

    • Biological therapy to help your immune system to destroy the leukaemia cells
    • Chemotherapy to kill the leukaemia cells — this may be one, two or more drugs
    • Radiation therapy (high-energy x-rays) to kill the leukaemia cells
    • Stem cell or bone marrow transplant to replace the abnormal bone marrow
    • Targeted therapy to stop the growth of the leukaemia cells
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