Is leukemia hereditary?

Though most people are relatively familiar with leukaemia, there are still many people that have never been touched by the disease. And when you're not faced with such a condition, there isn't necessarily a need (or want) of better knowledge concerning this form of cancer, which can lead to many, many questions. One such uncertainty revolves around the idea of heredity. Is leukaemia a hereditary disease?


Leukaemia is essentially a cancer of the blood, more specifically a cancer of the cells of the blood. Generally, this form of cancer starts off in the marrow of the bone where your red blood cells and white blood cells, as well as your platelets, are formed. In a person with leukaemia, the white blood cells that are created in the marrow are basically anomalous or abnormal and don't really function as white blood cells should. As these cells grow, they do so at a heightened rate, ultimately crowding out your healthy blood cells, which may result in anaemia or infection.


While researchers still don't exactly know what causes this form of cancer, there are certain factors that may increase your potential risk of leukaemia. This doesn't mean that you will actually get leukaemia if you possess or have encountered these aspects (most people won't), such as exposure to radiation or harsh chemicals (like benzene), treatment for a different form of cancer with chemotherapy or smoke tobacco.


Besides these above mentioned factors, there is something to be said about genetics when it comes to leukaemia. Some families will tend to see a wider occurrence of this form of cancer than other families. This would then suggest, at least to many researchers and experts, that leukaemia might actually be hereditary, making those individuals with family members suffering from the disease at a greater risk than most.


Due to the fact that no two people are alike and that there are a number of different forms of leukaemia, symptoms will vary from person to person. But, there are few fairly common signs, no matter the type, including headaches, fever, bruising, lack of appetite, swollen spleen or lymph nodes (groin, armpit or neck), pain located in the joints, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. Though your doctor will have a medical history, including an idea if you are at a greater risk of leukaemia, you should still contact your medical professional when any of these symptoms are experienced, especially for prolonged periods of time.


The course of treatment you will need is generally based on the type and stage of leukaemia, as well as your health and age, among many other factors. Typically, chemotherapy will be used as the course of treatment to "kill" the leukaemia cells, but you may also go through radiation, biological therapy or even stem cell replacement (to help reconstruct both your immune system and blood cells).

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About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.