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Leukemia and its relations, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, Hodgkin's disease and myelodysplastic syndrome, are diseases of blood cells.

Blood is a transportation system that carries oxygen, food, vitamins, and other vital nutrients, hormones, clotting factors, and necessary chemicals to all the cells of the body. It carries away waste materials and poisons, is involved in temperature control, and is an essential element in the body's defense against infection.

Whole blood is made up of many components. Each component has a specific role in the blood functions. The three main groups of blood cells are the red cells, the clotting cells, and the white cells. They circulate through the bloodstream in a clear yellowish fluid known as plasma.

Leukemic cells circulate through the blood and lymphatic systems. They infiltrate vital organs like the lungs, kidney, spleen and liver which in turn become impaired and malfunction. Often these organs become enlarged. As the disease progresses the patient can become increasingly susceptible to fatigue and excessive bleeding and causing every minor infection or injury to become a potentially hazardous condition.

Untreated, death occurs from bleeding, from the spread of infection, or from organ failure.

Leukemia and lymphomas are, however, among the most treatable forms of cancer.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation or a combination of these. Bone marrow transplants (BMT) are sometimes performed for high-risk leukemia and lymphoma patients. 

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material for this page excerpted from NIH documents with permission


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