Leukemia is a commonly known but often misunderstood medical term that refers to a potentially serious cancer of the blood. Someone with leukemia has too many white blood cells in his body because his bone marrow is not properly functioning. White blood cells in appropriate numbers help fight infections, but when there are too many they instead attack healthy red blood cells.
The prognosis for leukemia depends upon numerous factors including how quickly it is diagnosed and how healthy the person was before he developed the cancer. Leukemia is closely related to lymphoma, myeloma, and myelodysplastic syndromes; these are also potentially serious cancers that impact the blood or the lymph nodes. Every four minutes, at least one American is diagnosed with leukemia or a similar type of cancer, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. More than 1 million Americans either have active leukemia or in remission from the illness.
While children are more likely than adults to develop leukemia, males of any age have a higher risk of developing leukemia than females. Leukemia is the most common cancer diagnosis among people ages 19 or younger. Caucasians of any age or gender are more likely to develop some type of leukemia than people of another ethnicity.
Long-term survival rates for leukemia are not extremely high, but have dramatically improved since 1963. About 56.5 percent of leukemia patients will live at least five years after their initial diagnosis; only about 14 percent of people with leukemia survived more than five years during the 1960s. Radiation, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and heightened awareness are responsible for increasing longevity among those who are promptly diagnosed and treated.