Leukemia is a form of cancer that can affect the blood or the bone marrow. The two are closely linked, seeing as the bone marrow is responsible for producing the blood cells.
A patient suffering with leukemia will experience an abnormal production of their blood cells, usually affecting the leukocytes (white blood cells) in particular. This is actually what gives the condition its name, the word luekos means ‘white’ in Greek, whereas aima means ‘blood’. Leukemia is sometimes confused with lymphoma, which a form of cancer affecting the lymphatic system.
Cancer is caused when damage occurs in the nucleus of a cell. Often this is caused by free radicals, by radiation and by general wear and tear. Either way, the damage can end up penetrating through the cell walls and into the nucleus of the cells where the DNA is housed. This can then cause damage to the DNA itself, which in turn alters the way that the cell is expressed – the way it is created and the way it behaves.
This can then lead to continuing problems. When the cell divides and copies itself via mitosis, the DNA serves as the ‘blueprint’ that will instruct the body on how to create the new copy. If this is damaged then, the new cell will carry that same damage. Damaged blood cells don’t die when they should and they then begin to multiply, taking up more space and preventing the production of healthy white blood cells. Over time, the bad blood cells can outnumber the good blood cells in the blood. The condition is serious and over 60,000 people in the US are diagnosed with the condition every year.
Leukemia is also the most common childhood cancer, though it is more common in adults than children still. It is also slightly more common in women.
In this post, we will take a look at some of the early signs of leukemia that might point to the condition.
1. Becoming Ill
The job of the white blood cells is to fight infections and to drive away bacteria. This is one of the front lines of defence for the immune system. In cases of leukemia, this function may be suppressed or impaired, which leaves the patient vulnerable to illness.
There are many other illnesses and conditions that can cause the immune system to become suppressed or to stop functioning properly. Culprits include malnutrition, stress, HIV and more. This alone does not suggest leukemia but if it is noticed alongside other symptoms on the list, then it may be a cause for concern.