What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer that disrupts the normal development of blood cells. Inside most of your bones is a soft spongy material called bone marrow in which blood stem cells (immature blood cells) are produced. A blood stem cell becomes one of two types of stem cells: myeloid or lymphoid, which mature into different kinds of blood cells.
Myeloid stems cells become one of the following:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen to and from the tissues in your body
- Platelets that help your blood to clot to control bleeding
- Infection-fighting white blood cells known as granulocytes
Lymphoid stem cells become lymphoblasts, which mature into one of the following types of white blood cells:
- B lymphocytes (B cells), which produce antibodies that identify and destroy bacteria and viruses
- T lymphocytes (T cells), which fight against viruses and stimulate B cells to produce antibodies
- Natural Killer (NK) cells, which kill tumor cells and disease-carrying microorganisms
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) disrupts the normal development of myeloid stem cells. With AML, myeloid stem cells turn into leukemic cells (also calls blasts) that multiply very quickly, don’t mature or function like normal blood cells, and don’t die off as normal cells should. As a result, these leukemic cells begin to accumulate and because of their failure to mature lead to a reduced number of normal blood cells, which in turn can cause infection, anemia, and excessive bleeding. And sometimes, particularly in younger patients, these leukemic cells move out of the bone marrow and into the bloodstream where they can disrupt other parts of the body, including the liver and spleen, mouth and gums, and the central nervous system.