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Perth Haematology :: Dr Steven Ward

Leukaemia

 

 

= cancer of the white blood cells of the blood and marrow. Immature (precursor) cells accumulate and do not develop fully into the mature cells, leading to high immature cell counts (blast cells) and lowering of the normal blood counts (WCC, Hb, platelets).

 

2 main forms, which behave very differently:

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ACUTE LEUKAEMIA: Onset is abrupt and rapidly develops. Requires urgent attention.

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CHRONIC LEUKAEMIA: Often indolent, slow growing and present for a long time before diagnosed. May not require treatment in initial stages. It causes problems as the white cell counts and tumour burden rises slowly over time.

 

 

Acute Leukaemia Chronic Leukaemia
AML ::  Acute Myeloid Leukaemia CLL :: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia
ALL ::  Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia CML :: Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia

There are other chronic lymphoid leukaemias (Hairy Cell Leukaemia, Prolymphocytic Leukaemia)

 

Risk Factors for Leukaemia

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The majority of cases of leukaemia have no known cause or potential risk-factor

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very high levels of radiation - eg after Japanese atomic bombs or Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident

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Chemicals - benzene

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Chemotherapy for cancers can increase the risk of developing leukaemia. eg alkylators

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Down's syndrome - increased risk of acute leukaemia

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Virus; HTLV-1 causes a rare form of T-cell leukaemia

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Myelodysplasia - increases the risk of progressing to acute leukaemia; particulalry the high-grade MDS and CMML. (see MDS section)

 

Symptoms of Leukaemia

bulletThere may be no symptoms, with the disease found incidently
bulletNone of the symptoms are specific for leukaemia and may be due to other problems
bulletSymptoms related to marrow failure:
bulletLack of normal white cells: infection, fever
bulletLack of red cells and Hb: anaemia - tired, breathless, pale
bulletLack of platelets: abnormal bruising and bleeding
bulletBone pains, aches
bulletNight sweats
bulletWeight loss
bulletEnlarged glands

See the sections on the specific type of leukaemia for further information.