To maintain the proper numbers of each type of blood cell it is important that cells die off and are cleared from the blood at the end of their useful lifespan.
In leukemia, normal control mechanisms break down and the marrow starts to produce large numbers of abnormal cells. This disrupts the normal production of blood cells leading to anemia and low platelet counts. The abnormal cells cannot fight infections like normal white blood cells.White Blood Cell Levels May Be High People with leukemia may have very high levels of white blood cells, but because the cells are abnormal, they are unable to fight infection. Therefore, patients may develop frequent fevers or infections. A shortage of red blood cells, called anemia, can cause a person to feel tired. Not having enough blood platelets may cause a person to bleed and bruise easily. Some symptoms depend on where leukemia cells collect in the body. Leukemia cells can collect in many different tissues and organs, such as the digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body, including the eyes, brain, and testicles. Other Common Symptoms Other common symptoms of leukemia include headache, weight loss, pain in the bones or joints, swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen), and swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit. Symptoms of acute leukemia may include vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures. Some of the symptoms of leukemia are similar to those caused by the flu or other common diseases, so these symptoms are not sure signs of leukemia. It is important to check with your doctor if you have these symptoms. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat leukemia. Diagnosing Leukemia: Physical Exam, Blood Tests, Biopsy To find the cause of leukemia symptoms, the doctor will ask about medical history and conduct a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will check for signs of disease such as lumps, swelling in the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver, or anything else that seems unusual. The doctor will need to do blood tests that check the levels and types of blood cells and look for changes in the shape of blood cells. The doctor also may look at certain factors in the blood to see if leukemia has affected other organs such as the liver or kidneys. Even if blood tests suggest leukemia, the doctor may look for signs of leukemia in the bone marrow by doing a biopsy before making a diagnosis. A biopsy is a procedure where a small amount of bone marrow is removed from a bone. A pathologist examines the sample under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.