The blood-related cancers currently afflict more than 620,000 Americans with an estimated 108,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The fatality rate is alarming with 60,500 people in the United States dying annually from this disorder.
Leukemia and lymphoma are blood-related cancers that originate in the bone marrow (leukemia) or lymphatic system (lymphoma). Blood-related cancers currently afflict more than 620,000 Americans. It is estimated that 30,600 new cases of leukemia and 61,000 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year.
There are four major types of leukemia:
- Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Acute leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease that affects mostly cells that are unformed or primitive (not yet fully developed or differentiated).
Chronic leukemia progresses slowly and permits the growth of greater numbers of more developed cells
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) eventually develops into an acute form of leukemia. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) occurs most often in people over the age of 50.
Who’s at Risk
No one knows the exact causes of leukemia. Doctors can seldom explain why one person gets this disease and another does not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop leukemia. A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease.
Studies have found the following risk factors for leukemia:
- Very high levels of radiation?People exposed to very high levels of radiation are much more likely than others to develop leukemia. Very high levels of radiation have been caused by atomic bomb explosions (such as those in Japan during World War II) and nuclear power plant accidents (such as the Chernobyl [also called Chornobyl] accident in 1986).
- Medical treatment that uses radiation can be another source of high-level exposure. Radiation used for diagnosis, however, exposes people to much lower levels of radiation and is not linked to leukemia.
- Working with certain chemicals?Exposure to high levels of benzene in the workplace can cause leukemia. Benzene is used widely in the chemical industry. Formaldehyde is also used by the chemical industry. Workers exposed to formaldehyde also may be at greater risk of leukemia.
- Chemotherapy?Cancer patients treated with certain cancer-fighting drugs sometimes later develop leukemia. For example, drugs known as alkylating agents are associated with the development of leukemia many years later.
- Down syndrome and certain other genetic diseases?Some diseases caused by abnormal chromosomes may increase the risk of leukemia.
- Human T-cell leukemia virus-I (HTLV-I)?This virus causes a rare type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia known as human T-cell leukemia. However, leukemia does not appear to be contagious.
- Myelodysplastic syndrome?People with this blood disease are at increased risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia.
In the past, some studies suggested exposure to electromagnetic fields as another possible risk factor for leukemia. Electromagnetic fields are a type of low-energy radiation that comes from power lines and electric appliances. However, results from recent studies show that the evidence is weak for electromagnetic fields as a risk factor.
Most people who have known risk factors do not get leukemia. On the other hand, many who do get the disease have none of these risk factors. People who think they may be at risk of leukemia should discuss this concern with their doctor. The doctor may suggest ways to reduce the risk and can plan an appropriate schedule for checkups.
Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of symptoms.
Common symptoms of leukemia may include:
- Fevers or night sweats
- Frequent infections
- Feeling weak or tired
- Bleeding and bruising easily (bleeding gums, purplish patches in the skin, or tiny red spots under the skin)
- Pain in the bones or joints
- Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen)
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit
- Weight loss
These symptoms are not sure signs of leukemia. An infection or another problem also could cause these symptoms. Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. You should see the appropriate medical professional to diagnose leukemia
In the early stages of chronic leukemia, the leukemia cells function almost normally. Symptoms may not appear for a long time. Doctors often find chronic leukemia during a routine checkup?before there are any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they generally are mild at first and get worse gradually.
In acute leukemia, symptoms appear and get worse quickly. People with this disease go to their doctor because they feel sick. Other symptoms of acute leukemia are vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures. Leukemia cells also can collect in the testicles and cause swelling. Also, some patients develop sores in the eyes or on the skin. Leukemia also can affect the digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, or other parts of the body.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Children
Cancer in children and adolescents is uncommon but has been increasing for the last several years. But, ALL is the most common cancer in children, representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15 years of age. It occurs in about one of every 29,000 children in the United States each year.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells, the cells in the body that normally fight infections.
- In ALL, the abnormal cells may collect in the brain or spinal cord, also called the central nervous system (CNS).
- In cancers such as leukemia that appear throughout the body during their earliest stages, screening does not appear to be useful. Rather, children with any symptoms that suggest the possibility of ALL should be seen by their physician.
- Although leukemia cells from different children with ALL often look very similar under the microscope, there are actually many distinctive subtypes of ALL.
- With the exception of prenatal exposure to X-rays and specific genetic syndromes, such as Down’s syndrome, little is known about the causes of and risk factors for childhood ALL.
- In ALL, the abnormal cells may collect in the brain or spinal cord, also called the central nervous system (CNS).
What are the symptoms of ALL
Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of symptoms. Children with ALL frequently have low amounts of healthy red blood cell
s and platelets. As a result, there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body. With this condition, called anemia, patients may look pale and feel weak and tired. When there are not enough platelets, patients bleed and bruise easily.
Some of the common symptoms of ALL include:
- Frequent infections;
- Swollen or tender lymph nodes, liver, or spleen;
- Paleness or pallor
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Tiny red spots (called petechiae) under the skin;
- Bone or joint pain.
What is the survival rate for children with ALL
The improvement in survival for children with ALL over the past 35 years is one of the great success stories of cancer treatment. In the 1960s, less than 5 percent of children with ALL survived for more than five years. Today, about 85 percent of children with ALL live five years or more.
Lymphoma is a general term for a group of cancers that originate in the lymphatic system. Lymphomas are classified as Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the fifth most diagnosed cancer in the United States. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most often diagnosed in adolescents and adults and has a cure rate over 80%.
It is estimated that over About 66,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006.
The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system. In the lymphatic system, a network of lymph vessels carries clear fluid called lymph. Lymph vessels lead to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are filled with lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The lymph nodes trap and remove bacteria or other harmful substances that may be in the lymph. Groups of lymph nodes are found in the neck, underarms, chest, abdomen, and groin.
Other parts of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, spleen, and thymus. Lymphatic tissue is also found in other parts of the body including the stomach, skin, and small intestine.
What Is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
There are many types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. All types of lymphoma begin in cells of the lymphatic system. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma begins when a lymphocyte (a B cell or T cell) becomes abnormal. Usually, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts in a B cell in a lymph node. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself. The new cells divide again and again, making more and more abnormal cells. The abnormal cells are cancer cells. They do not die when they should. They do not protect the body from infections or other diseases. Also, the cancer cells can spread to nearly any other part of the body.
It is not currently well understood why one person develops non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and another does not. But research shows that certain risk factors increase the chance that a person will develop this disease. In general, the risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include the following:
Things that weaken the immune system: Having a weak immune system (from an inherited condition, HIV infection, or certain drugs) increases the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Certain infections: Having certain types of infections increases the risk of developing lymphoma. However, lymphoma is not contagious. You cannot “catch” lymphoma from another person.
The following are the main types of infection that can increase the risk of lymphoma:
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People who have HIV infection are at much greater risk of some types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): Infection with EBV has been linked to an increased risk of ymphoma. In Africa, EBV infection is linked to Burkitt’s lymphoma. Helicobacter pylori: H. pylori are bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers. They also increase a person’s risk of lymphoma in the stomach lining. Human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1): Infection with HTLV-1 increases a person’s risk of lymphoma and leukemia. Hepatitis C virus: Some studies have found an increased risk of lymphoma in people with hepatitis C virus. More research is needed to understand the role of hepatitis C virus.
Age: Although non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can occur in young people, the chance of developing this disease goes up with age. Most people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are older than 60.
Researchers are currently studying obesity and other possible risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
People who work with herbicides or certain other chemicals may be at increased risk of this disease.
Researchers are also looking at a possible link between using hair dyes before 1980 and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Most people who have known risk factors do not get non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On the other hand, people who do get the disease often have no known risk factors. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this concern with your doctor.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can cause many symptoms:
- Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Soaking night sweats
- Weakness and tiredness that don’t go away
- Pain, swelling, or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
Coughing, trouble breathing, or chest pain
Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Infections or other health problems may also cause these symptoms. Anyone with symptoms that do not go away within 2 weeks should see a doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated.
For information about this disease in children, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.
What Is Hodgkin’s Disease
Hodgkin’s disease is another of a group of cancers called lymphomas. Hodgkin’s disease is an uncommon lymphoma, accounting for less than 1 percent of all cases of cancer in this country.
In Hodgkin’s disease, cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal. They divide too rapidly and grow without any order or control.
Because lymphatic tissue is present in many parts of the body, Hodgkin’s disease can start almost anywhere. Hodgkin’s disease may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or, sometimes, in other parts of the lymphatic system such as the bone marrow and spleen.
This type of cancer tends to spread in a fairly orderly way from one group of lymph nodes to the next group. For example, Hodgkin’s disease that arises in the lymph nodes in the neck spreads first to the nodes above the collarbones, and then to the lymph nodes under the arms and within the chest. Eventually, it can spread to almost any other part of the body.
Risk Factors Associated with Hodgkin’s Disease
At this time, the cause or causes of Hodgkin’s disease are not known. . It is clear, however, that Hodgkin’s disease is not caused by an injury, and it is not contagious; no one can “catch” this disease from another person.
By studying patterns of cancer in the population, researcher
s have found certain risk factors that are more common in people who get Hodgkin’s disease than in those who do not. However, most people with these risk factors do not get Hodgkin’s disease, and many who do get this disease have none of the known risk factors.
The following are some of the risk factors associated with this disease:
Age/Sex — Hodgkin’s disease occurs most often in people between 15 and 34 and in people over the age of 55. It is more common in men than in women.
Family History — Brothers and sisters of those with Hodgkin’s disease have a higher-than-average chance of developing this disease.
Viruses — Epstein-Barr virus is an infectious agent that may be associated with an increased chance of getting Hodgkin’s disease.
People who are concerned about the chance of developing Hodgkin’s disease should talk with their doctor about the disease, the symptoms to watch for, and an appropriate schedule for checkups.
Symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease may include the following:
- A painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin
- Unexplained recurrent fevers
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
When symptoms like these occur, they are not sure signs of Hodgkin’s disease. In most cases, they are actually caused by other, less serious conditions, such as the flu. When symptoms like these persist, however, it is important to see a doctor so that any illness can be diagnosed and treated. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease. Do not wait to feel pain; early Hodgkin’s disease may not cause pain
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society