Leukaemia

What is leukaemia?

  • There are two types of leukaemia – chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
  • CLL usually develops very slowly. The body makes too many white blood cells called lymphocytes. When examined, the lymphocytes look normal but they are not fully developed and do not work properly. These abnormal lymphocytes build up, over time, in the lymphatic system and may cause large swollen lymph nodes. They may also fill the bone marrow, reducing the number of normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets the can be made.
  • ALL is a cancer of the white blood cells. There is an overproduction of immature lymphoblasts. The normal process of white blood cells growing and dividing, in an orderly and controlled way, gets out of control. The normal signals that stop the body making too many cells are ignored. For this reason, the cells continue dividing and do not mature.

Symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

  • Feeling tired or unwell
  • Frequent infections due to a shortage of healthy white blood cells, which would normally make antibodies that fight off infections
  • Infections in general may be more severe and take longer to clear
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin caused by a build-up of CLL cells
  • Breathlessness, tiredness and headaches caused by too few red blood cells (anaemia)
  • Bruising and bleeding easily
  • Severe sweating at night
  • Weight loss

Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

  • Look pale, feeling very tired and/or breathlessness
  • Feeling generally unwell, perhaps with a sore throat and/or mouth
  • Aching joints and bones
  • Having various infections one after another
  • Unusual bleeding, because of too few platelets – this may include bruising without any obvious cause, heavy periods in women, bleeding gums and frequent nose bleeds

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