Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It involves the cells your body would typically develop into white blood cells. The bone marrow starts to produce a high number of abnormal, immature white blood cells. These cells cannot fulfill their roles within the immune system and because they continue to grow and divide, they don't die off as healthy cells would.

As these abnormal white blood cells accumulate in the bloodstream, they take up space that should be for healthy blood cells, resulting in lower counts of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This leads to symptoms such as frequent infections, fatigue due to anemia, and easy bruising or bleeding.

There are different types of leukemia, including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Each type indicates how quickly the disease progresses and which kind of white blood cells are affected (lymphocytic relates to lymphocytes, while myeloid applies to other types of white blood cells, like neutrophils and basophils).

The exact cause of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is not yet fully understood, but it appears to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Diagnosis typically involves blood tests, bone marrow tests, and genetic tests to confirm the disease and determine its type, which will guide the treatment approach. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplantation. Despite its seriousness, progress in medical research in recent years has seen an increase in survival rates for many types of leukemia.

A microscopy image showing a blood smear. Most of the cells are red blood cells which are stained red and show a rounded, discoid shape. There are approximately 40 englarged lymphocytes which show an irregular shape and typical dark stained nuclei which take up most of the cells' volume.

Figure 1. Blood smear from a patient with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

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