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Leukaemia is a cancer involving the white blood cells of the body. White blood cells are divided into myeloid cells, B cells and T cells, and are responsible for our immune system function. White blood cells are made from stem cells in the bone marrow which grow into mature cells such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Abnormal white blood cells are created from the bone marrow in leukaemia. The white blood cells have altered DNA and simply continue to grow and multiply. These cells crowd out other cells in the bloodstream and in the bone marrow.

There are various types of leukaemia. Chronic leukaemia is slow growing and often has no symptoms other than some fatigue. It gradually gets worse and involves the lymph nodes, which become swollen. The person is at higher risk of getting systemic infections. Acute leukaemia is faster moving than chronic leukaemia. The number of cells increases rapidly and acute leukemia usually worsens quickly.

The leukaemia can also be defined as a myeloid or lymphoid leukaemia. Lymphoid leukaemia affects lymphoid cells and myeloid leukaemia affects the myeloid cells. There are four different types of leukaemia: 1) chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which accounts for 15,000 cases per year; 2) Chronic myeloid leukaemia, which affects fewer people, about 5000 cases per year; 3) acute lymphocytic or lymphoblastic leukaemia affect around 5000 people per year; 4) acute myeloid leukaemia, which affects more than 13000 new cases per year.

Risk factors for getting leukaemia include previous exposure to radiation, such as in atomic bomb explosions, having radiation therapy for another type of cancer, having diagnostic x-rays, having a smoking history, exposing oneself to benzene in a laboratory or construction industry, having had chemotherapy, having a history of Down syndrome or other inherited diseases, and having myelodysplastic syndromes or other blood disorders. Other risk factors include being infected with HTLV-1, a virus you can catch from another person, or having a family history of leukaemia. Remember that most people with risk factors do not go on to develop leukaemia but the risk is still there.

Symptoms of leukaemia may be few. The individual may have malaise, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, loss of muscle control, or seizures. It can affect any body area and can have a variety of symptoms. You can have fevers or night sweats, frequent infections, weakness, easy bruisability, swelling of the abdomen from an enlarged liver or spleen, pain in the bones or joints and weight loss without a logical reason.

Diagnosis of leukaemia is done by doing a physical examination. The doctor checks the liver, the spleen and the lymph nodes for enlargement. Blood tests can show cancerous cells in the blood. A bone marrow evaluation can show cancer among the cells of the marrow. A bone marrow aspiration uses a narrow needle to extract cells from the bone marrow. A bone marrow biopsy uses a thick needle that grabs a large chunk of the bone and bone marrow in one attempt. A spinal tap will show if the cancer has spread to the cerebrospinal fluid. A chest x-ray can see if there are swollen lymph nodes in the chest cavity.

Treatment of leukaemia involves several choices. Some are mild enough so that watchful waiting can be done until the cancer becomes worse. Chemotherapy is a common treatment for leukaemia. Biological therapy has recently been used to treat leukaemia as has radiation therapy. Stem cell transplants are the latest in leukaemia treatment and, if the spleen is enlarged, the doctor may remove it to keep it from sequestering the white blood cells.

The treatment depends on whether the leukaemia is acute or chronic, how old you are and whether leukaemia cells were found in the cerebrospinal fluid. The features of the cancer cells determine which treatment is used for the management of the leukaemia. The treatment of acute leukaemia needs to be done immediately as this is a more aggressive form of cancer. Treatment is intended to make sure the cancer goes into remission. Chronic leukaemia may not need to be treated right away but can be watched to see if the cancer gets worse.


Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our leukaemia solicitors operate the no win no fee scheme which is totally without risk. You only pay legal charges if the case is won. There are no upfront charges to pay whatsoever. If you would like to discuss your potential compensation claim with a specialist medical negligence solicitor just complete the contact form or email our solicitors offices or use the helpline. Once you have provided sufficient information you will speak with a leukaemia cancer solicitor who will advise you on the prospects of success for your claim and an estimated amount of compensation that may be awarded. Our advice is totally without cost and there is no further obligation to use our legal services. Do yourself justice and give us a call.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here