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  Below is some information about the various leukemias, lymphomas and myeloma. You can find more information on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's website at

Is leukemia (or lymphoma, myeloma) inherited?
No. There is little to no evidence that these diseases are inherited. There are genetic components to the diseases and often there are alterations in the DNA but the cause of these changes is unknown and occurs later in life

What are the statistics for the survival of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma?
Survival is measured in several ways so it is important to differentiate the meaning of each measure. Often the survival statistics are presented as five-year survival that is the percentage of people who survive five years from the date of diagnosis.

The five-year survival rates for the blood-related cancers are the following:

leukemia  44%
lymphoma  52%
myeloma  28%

Disease specific rates differ within the leukemia category:

ALL  58%,
CLL  71%,
AML  14%
CML  32%.

These figures alter for children and people over 75.

Within the lymphomas there are also differences in the five-year survival rates:

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma  52%
Hodgkin's  83%

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a malignant disease (cancer) of the bone marrow and blood. It is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal white blood cells. The common types of leukemia are divided into four categories. myelogenous and lymphocytic, which can be either acute or chronic. The term myelogenous and lymphocytic denote the type of cell involved. Thus, the four major types of leukemia are,

  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
Acute leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease that results in the accumulation of immature functionless cells in the marrow and blood. The marrow often can no longer produce enough normal red and white blood cells and platelets. Anemia, a deficiency of red cells, develops in virtually all leukemia patients. The lack of normal white cells impairs the body's ability to fight infections. A shortage of platelets results in bruising and easy bleeding. Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and permits greater number of more mature functional cells to be made.

Signs and Symptoms
Easy bruising and bleeding (as a result of platelet deficiency)
Paleness or easy fatigue (as a result of anemia)
Recurrent infections or poor healing of minor cuts (as a result of impaired cell function)

A proportion of those with chronic leukemia may not have major symptoms and are only diagnosed during a routine medical exam.

The aim is to bring about remission. Complete remission means that there is no evidence of the disease. Relapse indicates a return of the cancer cells and return of signs and symptoms of the disease. For leukemia, complete remission that lasts five years after treatment is considered to indicate a cure.

Treatment centers are reporting increasing numbers of patients with leukemia in complete remission at lest five years after diagnosis of the disease.

What is Hairy Cell Leukemia?

Hairy Cell Leukemia is a subset of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). It is a slow growing malignant disorder that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes (which have short thin projections, like hair). They accumulate in the bone marrow and spleen and also, but to a lesser extent, in the lymphs. It prevents the production of normal blood cells by the marrow.

It is harder to diagnose than some of the other types of leukemia because the symptoms are vague and resemble those of other illnesses. Some signs could be an enlarged spleen or an unexpected decrease in normal blood cell count found during a routine medical exam.

Fortunately, there is a combination of drugs known as 2-CdA that has shown a high success rate in chemotherapy.

What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a group of cancers that originate in the lymphatic system which includes hundreds of bean-size lymph nodes, present throughout the whole body including the spleen and thymus. It is a result when lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) undergo a malignant change and begin to multiply, eventually crowding out healthy cells and creating tumors which enlarge the lymph nodes. This enlargement of lymph nodes can be seen, felt, or measured by computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, depending on the degree of enlargement and location.

There are two major categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Hodgkin's disease accounts for about 8% of all lymphomas. It differs in that there is a presence of large abnormal cell called Reed-Sternberg.

Signs and Symptoms
Common signs are painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, groin or abdomen, fever, night sweats, excessive tiredness, indigestion, loss of appetite, bone pain, and abdominal pain.

Early-stage localized lymphoma is usually treated with radiation, but widespread disease requires chemotherapy or chemotherapy with radiation. Hodgkin's disease is now considered one of the most curable forms of cancer. For non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, several cycles of chemotherapy of 3 to 4 weeks each is most common. Treatment may consist of 6 to 12 cycles. Much depends on the combination of drugs, the patient's tolerance of the drug and duration of level of drug in the patient's blood and tissue.

What is Myeloma?

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells which are a type of white blood cells found in many tissues of the body, but mainly in the bone marrow. In myeloma, a plasma cell becomes malignant. It grows continuously especially in the marrow destroying normal bone tissue causing pain and crowding out normal blood cell production. It interferes with normal production of antibodies, making it hard to fight infections.

Signs and Symptoms
The most pervasive symptom is bone pain.


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