Leukemia, Blood Cancer | Tampa General Hospital


Leukemia is a malignancy that results from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in blood-forming tissues, where healthy stem cells normally mature and divide into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Unlike many other types of cancer, leukemia does not form tumors. Instead, abnormal blood cells crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, then enter the bloodstream. If deprived of an adequate circulation of healthy blood cells, the body’s organs and tissues will not receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients to function properly. 

Leukemia can be classified based on its rate of progression and the type of blood cells affected. The most common type affects infection-fighting white blood cells, which circulate throughout the body to target and destroy harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria. 

What Causes Leukemia? 

Leukemia begins with a DNA mutation in a single bone marrow cell, which interferes with the cell’s ability to develop, function and reproduce properly. All cells that arise from the mutated cell will also carry the mutated DNA. 

The precise causes of the DNA damage that leads to leukemia are not yet well understood, although scientists have identified certain risk factors for blood cancer, such as exposure to high doses of radiation, benzene or formaldehyde. High concentrations of the latter two chemicals are found in tobacco smoke. 

What Are the Signs of Leukemia? 

Many chronic forms of leukemia develop gradually and do not produce noticeable symptoms in their early stages. If symptoms occur, they can include: 

  • Frequent infections 
  • General weakness and fatigue 
  • Fever and chills 
  • Night sweats 
  • Bone and joint pain 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Chronic nosebleeds 

How Is Leukemia Diagnosed? 

In many cases, leukemia is diagnosed through a physical examination and blood work, such as a complete blood count (CBC), which may reveal abnormal blood cell levels. If leukemia is suspected, a physician will typically order further testing, such as a bone marrow biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis.  

How Is Leukemia Treated? 

For most types of leukemia, chemotherapy is the main form of treatment. Other options include: 
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Stem cell transplants 
  • Targeted therapy 

The optimal approach can vary based on the type and stage of the cancer and the patient’s age, health status and preferences. 

The hematology/oncology specialists at Tampa General Hospital have the skills, experience and resources necessary to accurately diagnose and effectively treat all types of leukemia. We’re proud to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. 


Kendra's Story

Kendra discusses her leukemia treatment