Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. It occurs when blood cells acquire DNA mutations that cause the number of the body’s white blood cells to radically increase, crowding out the red blood cells and platelets the body needs to remain healthy.
While leukemia is the most common form of cancer found in children and teens, it actually affects more adults. It is more common in men than women, as well as in whites than African-Americans. Childhood cancers tend to respond to treatment better than adult cancers; and the survival rates for most types of childhood leukemia have increased significantly.
Many types of leukemia exist. Each is classified based on the speed of progression (acute versus chronic), and the type of cells involved:
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) occurs in both children and adults, and is the most common type of adult acute leukemia.
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the number one form of leukemia found in young children, though it can also occur in adults.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most prevalent chronic adult leukemia.
There’s nothing one can do to prevent leukemia. Early diagnosis, however, can lead to speedier treatment and improve the odds for survival.
Through basic research, scientists have made solid progress in understanding the changes in the DNA of bone marrow stem cells that cause the development of leukemia cells. This, in turn, has produced much improved, ultra-sensitive tests for detecting leukemia cells in blood or bone marrow.
Chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment for leukemia; others include radiation and stem cell transplant.
Research has enabled scientists to focus on targeted drugs and immunotherapies for the treatment of leukemia in children who don’t respond to the standard treatments. Newer, less toxic chemotherapy drugs are also being researched and tested.
The National Cancer Center’s Fighting Childhood Leukemia program provides funding for researchers who are seeking new ways to treat childhood leukemia more effectively. It is hoped this will provide even higher survival rates for most types of childhood leukemia.
Please consider supporting NCC’s Fighting Childhood Leukemia program to reinforce Leukemia Awareness month and help us find a cure!