All blood cells originate in the bone marrow, which is a semi-solid substance found in the middle or spongy portion of the bone. The bone marrow produces blood stem cells through a process called hematopoiesis. The blood stem cells further differentiate or change into other cells, initially becoming either myeloid or lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells can become red blood cells, platelets, or one of four types of white blood cells: monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, or basophils. Lymphoid cells become other types of white blood cells called B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells.

Leukemia is classified based on which cell or cells (myeloid or lymphoid) mutate. If the cells become malignant at an early immature stage, this leads to acute leukemia. If the cells become malignant at a later, more mature stage, this leads to chronic leukemia. The four basic classifications of leukemia are:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia
  • Acute lymphoid leukemia
  • Chronic lymphoid leukemia

What are the Symptoms and Who is at Risk?

Symptoms of leukemia vary relating to type, but some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Fever or chills
  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Tiny red spots in on the skin (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Bone pain or tenderness

Factors that may increase the risk of developing some types of leukemia include:

  • Previous cancer treatment: People who’ve had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other cancers have an increased risk of developing certain types of leukemia.
  • Genetic disorders: Genetic abnormalities seem to play a role in the development of leukemia. Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of leukemia.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene — which is found in gasoline and is used by the chemical industry — is linked to an increased risk of some kinds of leukemia.
  • Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
  • Family history of leukemia: If family members have been diagnosed with leukemia, a person’s risk of the disease may be increased.

What Testing Would my Healthcare Provider Order?

If your doctor suspects leukemia, GenPath offers a complete portfolio of diagnostic tests to provide the needed information to correctly diagnose and determine which treatment may work best for you.

CBC – Complete blood counts can determine if there is an abnormal amount of white blood cells in your body. Although other conditions such as a common cold can alter your white blood cell count, CBCs are one of the first tests conducted.

Genetic and Hereditary testing – GenPath’s proprietary OnkoSight AdvancedTM offers specialized tumor testing done by Next Generation Sequencing, the most advanced testing method for determining changes in certain genes that can cause leukemia. Additionally, GenPath offers hereditary cancer testing for leukemia. For more on hereditary cancer testing, please click HERE.

Cell morphology – GenPath employs numerous medical specialists who are trained to look at the morphology, or shape of blood cells to determine if cancer is present.