Article published on 16th May 2008

Leukaemia is a form of cancer that damages the proper functioning of white blood cells in the body, thereby harming the body's ability to fight off infection.

If the disease develops gradually it is commonly referred to as Chronic Leukaemia, or else chronic myeloid leukaemia or chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, depending on the type of white blood cells being attacked. If the disease develops quickly, the condition is referred to as Acute Leukaemia, or acute myeloid leukaemia or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, again depending on the type of white blood cells affected.

With Chronic Leukaemia the affected white blood cells are made abnormal and so do cease to function in they way they should. Acute Leukaemia causes under-developed white blood cells gather in the body until they begin to interfere with the proper functions of organs and tissue.

A large part of the problem in diagnosing leukaemia is that there are often no discernable symptoms, or else symptoms that are so general that they can appear to be like flu. There are about 7 thousand new cases of leukaemia in the UK every year, making it the 9th most common form of cancer in men and the 11th most common cancer in women. Although it is perhaps 10 times more likely to develop in adults, Leukaemia remains the most common form of cancer amongst children.

Chances of developing acute leukaemia are increased by smoking, exposure to radiation, illnesses that damage bone marrow and even treatments for other or previous cancers. Chronic Leukaemia can also develop simply by ageing, or indeed through exposure to radiation or the chemical benzene. It's worth having a check up if any blood-family members have developed leukaemia in the past.

There are some fortunate individuals who develop leukaemia who do not need treatment as the disease doesn't affect for whatever reason. Others may not require treatment immediately but will eventually. Regardless, if you have leukaemia and DO need treatment, time is of the essence, as the earlier treatment begins the more likely it is to succeed.

Depending on the type of leukaemia treatments varying from chemotherapy, steroids, radiotherapy, bone marrow or stem cell implants and/or biological therapies, like interferon alpha.

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