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World Cancer Day 2021: Know The Symptoms And Risk Factors Of Leukemia

World Cancer Day 2021: Abnormal growth of white blood cells in the body is characterised as leukemia. Read here to know the symptoms and risk factors of this blood cancer type.

World Cancer Day 2021: Know The Symptoms And Risk Factors Of Leukemia

World Cancer Day 2021: Leukemia is a type of blood cancer


  1. Leukemia leads to unexplained fever weakness and fatigue
  2. Early diagnosis can help increase survival rates
  3. There are three types of blood cancer

World Cancer Day: It is true that most of the cancers get diagnosed at a later stage and the precious time is lost to give a patient a quality life ahead. But effective screening methods implemented in the early diagnosis of blood cancer can help save lives. India ranks third highest in reporting blood cancer cases, after US and China. Almost a lakh of new cases of blood disorder are reported each year. There are several different types of blood cancer depending upon the type of blood cells it affects primarily.

There are three types of blood cancers - leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Leukemia occurs when one can suffers from rapid production of abnormal cancer cells in the bone marrow. Thus, due to the abnormal cancer cells, the bone marrow's ability of the production of red blood cells and platelets gets affected. Leukemia occurs most often in adults older than 55, but it is also the most common cancer in children younger than 15.

Risk factors of leukemia:

Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not always mean that a person will get the disease, and many people get cancer without having any known risk factors.

While, in most of the cases, the exact cause of Leukemia is not known, but certain risk factors can attribute to the risk of Leukemia, like:

a. Radiation exposure - High-dose radiation exposure (such as being a survivor of an atomic bomb blast or nuclear reactor accident) increases the risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Radiation treatment for cancer has also been linked to an increased risk of AML. The risk varies based on the amount of radiation given and what area is treated.

b. Previous chemotherapy for cancer

c. Smoking and drinking

Family history of leukemia - Although most cases of AML are not thought to have a strong genetic link, having a close relative (such as a parent, brother, or sister) with AML increases your risk of getting the disease. Someone who has an identical twin who got AML before they were a year old has a very high risk of also getting AML.

Genetic Disorder - e.g. Down syndrome, Fanconi anaemia

Exposure to certain chemicals - For example, long-term exposure to benzene is a risk factor for acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Benzene is a solvent used in the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturing, and gasoline-related industries, and is also found in cigarette smoke, gasoline and motor vehicle exhaust, and some glues, cleaning products, detergents, art supplies, and paints.


World Cancer Day 2021: Leukemia can lead to shortness of breath
Photo Credit: iStock

Awareness, early diagnosis and treatment are the key:

Early diagnosis and awareness of symptoms allows for more treatment options and can improve survival rates in Leukemia. Some early cancers may show signs and symptoms but that may not always be the case. Initially, doctors make a note of family history and conduct a complete physical examination of the patient. Blood tests may include complete blood count with evaluations of liver and kidney function tests. Bone marrow examination is eventually done to diagnose blood cancers. Diagnostic imaging tests such as CT scan, PET scan, MRI, and/or X-rays may be performed to assess the extent of the disease at diagnosis, and also to assess response after treatment. There is no way to prevent Leukemia at large, but avoiding tobacco and exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals might help in reducing the risk of Cancer. It is important to also ensure that people with cancer have access to safe and effective treatment that also includes pain relief.

There are several treatment options for blood cancer. The type of treatment depends upon the type and stage of blood cancer, age of the patients and the other underlying medical conditions. Most blood cancers generally include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant (bone marrow and cord blood transplant), and immunotherapy.

Symptoms to watch for:

To spread awareness on early diagnosis, people need to be educated on various symptoms of blood cancer and seek timely intervention

  • Unexplained fever weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Swellings in the neck, armpit, or other areas due to Lymph node enlargement
  • Bleeding of gums and Itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal tightness due to organ enlargement

(Dr. Sunil Bhat, MBBS, MD (Pediatrics) Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru)

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