Leukemia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


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What is leukemia?

Leukemia is the cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow (the soft tissue inside most bones).
It is a condition where there is an overproduction of white blood cells that are a part of the immune system of the body, which defends the body against intruding germs and infections.

How does leukemia occur?

Leukemia begins in the immature or still developing cells of the bone marrow, found in the central cavities of bones. The bone marrow produces all forms of blood cells, such as:

  • red blood cells which carry oxygen to the tissues of the body
  • white blood cells that defend the body against infection
  • platelets that help the body form clots to stop bleeding and accelerate healing

Thus, the bone marrow provides the body each day with a constant supply of fresh, healthy cells. In a patient suffering from leukemia, the white blood cells do not mature normally, and instead keep growing in number and interfere with the production of other blood cells.They are also unable to defend the body against any form of infection the way normal white blood cells do.

There are four main types of leukemia. This disease is classified based on its speed of progression and the type of cells involved. Depending on how fast it progresses there are two types of leukemia: 

  • Acute leukemia. In acute leukemia, the abnormal blood cells are immature and cannot carry out the normal functions of defending the body against infections.  They multiply rapidly and impede the growth of other blood cells.
  • Chronic leukemia. There are various types of chronic leukemias, some of which produce too many cells and some too few cells. In chronic leukemia more mature blood cells are involved which replicate more slowly and can function normally for a period of time. Some types of chronic leukemia can go  undiagnosed for years as they produce no symptoms.

Depending on the type of cells involved there are two types of leukemia:

  • Lymphocytic leukemia. This type of leukemia affects the lymphoid cells that form the lymphatic tissue which makes up your immune system.
  • Myelogenous leukemia. This type of leukemia affects the myeloid cells that give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet-producing cells.

Who is prone to leukemia?

People who are prone to leukemia include:

  • those with a family history of leukemia
  • those who are chronic smokers
  • those with genetic disorders such as Down syndrome
  • those who suffer from blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndrome
  • those who have undergone previous treatment for cancer with chemotherapy, or radiation
  • those who have been exposed to high levels of radiation
  • those who are constantly exposed to chemicals such as benzene

What are the causes of leukemia?

Although the exact cause of leukemia has still not been identified, some factors which put people at a higher risk of leukemia are:

  • maternal fetal transmission
  • hair dyes
  • smoking
  • artificial ionizing radiation
  • viruses - HTLV-1 (human T-lymphotropic virus) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • benzene and some petrochemicals
  • alkylating chemotherapy agents used in previous cancers

What are the symptoms of leukemia? How is leukemia diagnosed?

The symptoms of leukemia include:

Poor blood clotting:  Immature white blood cells disturb the production of blood platelets, which are crucial for blood clotting.  The patient thus heals very slowly and also bruises and bleeds easily.  

Weak immune system:  In leukemia since the white blood cells do not function normally they are not able to protect the body against infections.

Anemia: Due to the poor production of healthy red blood cells, the patient may suffer from anemia.

A few other common leukemia symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • fever and chills
  • sweating
  • flu-like symptoms
  • bone pain
  • fatigue
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • muscle pains


An oncologist can diagnose leukemia after a routine blood test. He will first ask about your medical history and perform a physical test to check for swollen lymph nodes.  He may then also suggest a few other tests such as: 

  • Blood Tests: to check the complete blood count of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
  • Biopsy: in which samples of tissues are removed from your body to look for the cancer cells. This is the surest way to find the leukemia cells in the bone marrow.

Some additional tests include:

  • Cytogenetics: in which the chromosomes of cells are checked from the samples of blood, bone marrow, or lymph nodes to determine the type of leukemia.
  • Spinal Tap: to remove cerebrospinal fluid from your lower spine to check for leukemia cells.
  • Chest X-Ray: to check for swollen lymph nodes or other signs of disease in the chest.

What are the complications of leukemia?

The common complications of leukemia are:

  • fatigue
  • excess bleeding
  • bone and joint pain
  • enlarged spleen
  • continuous infections
  • death

What is the treatment for leukemia?

Medical Treatment for Leukemia 

Your doctor determines the leukemia treatment options based on the severity of your condition, age, overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and to which parts of your body it has spread. The most common treatments for leukemia include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Radiation
  • Stem cell transplant


A groundbreaking study shows that exercising can be very beneficial to patients suffering from leukemia. However, please consult your doctor for his approval before deciding on an exercise regimen. Weight training, swimming, jogging and walking are excellent forms of exercises for leukemia patients. While training with weights, it is imperative that you use very light weights, to prevent fatigue and injury

Would you like to consult a doctor for Leukemia ?

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
My mother's side has a family history of leukemia. I am wondering if it is hereditary, are there any precautions I can take
Most cases of leukemia are not believed to be hereditary, but certain genetic mutations and conditions can be passed along to offspring that increase the chances of developing leukemia. Avoid exposure to radiation , benzene, cigarette smoke to reduce risk of leukemia
Verified User
Shrihan Halder suffering of acute leukemia and admitted in hospital Vydehi in Bangalore. is this curable
Dr. Anil Kumar Jain
General Physician, Bangalore
Hello there. 

I can understand your concern. 
Acute leukemia is a condition when WBCs are over and above 50000 and in your case its well over a lakh.
But this is not the only test. Further more tests will be required like as suggested in the report itself named immunophenotyping.
Acute leukemia needs further classification to know the exact type and based on that it can be treated.
Im not going to say if it can be cured or not because its a incomplete diagnosis.
Vydehi is a good hospital and you need not worry. Whatever best treatment is there , they will do.
Best regards.
Dr. Anil kumar jain.

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Did you know?

Leukemia in Indian children

In India, every year nearly 25,000 children are diagnosed with this leukemia.

Among the list of top cancers in India

Leukemia is ranked among the list top cancers affecting Indians.

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Home Remedies

Healthy Diet

It is highly recommended that you add a lot of fruits and vegetables to your diet, as they possess high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, which can help in combating free radical activity. Include apples, strawberries, tomatoes, oranges, broccoli, spinach, kale and banana which possess high amounts of vitamins A, C and E into your diet. It is also recommended that you increase the amount of lean protein in your diets such as eggs, chicken, skim milk, tofu, legumes and fish.

Add Ginger into Your Diet

Ginger is considered an effective home remedy used for treating several conditions, including leukemia. Ginger possesses an active compound named gingerol, which may prove beneficial in deterring the activity of cancer cells in the body. According to the results of a research study conducted on leukemia patients, gingerol proved effective in killing leukemia cells. You can add ginger into your tea and drink it or even add ginger into fruit juices such as oranges and drink.

Take Chamomile

Chamomile herb is used in the treatment of leukemia symptoms among people of various age groups and therefore you can take chamomile tea or capsules, but after getting approval from your doctor.

Add Turmeric into Your Diet

With the approval of your doctor you can drink a teaspoon of raw turmeric juice on empty stomach in the morning. Turmeric is known to be an anti-cancer agent that has been found to kill cancer cells by inducing apoptosis through its action on numerous molecular pathways and at the same time does not affect normal cells. It also prevents cancer from spreading.

Raw Beetroot Juice

Beet-root is an excellent natural cure for leukemia as it contains betacyanins that contribute to the red color of the beet, which also is highly known, for its cancer fighting properties. With the approval of your doctor drink a glass of beetroot juice everyday.