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leukaemiasA group of blood disorders in which white blood cells reproduce in a disorganized and uncontrolled way and progressively displace the normal constituents of the blood. The leukaemias are a form of cancer (neoplasia) and unless effectively treated are usually fatal. Death occurs from a shortage of red blood cells (ANAEMIA), or from severe bleeding or from infection. The different types of leukaemia arise from different white cell types and have different outlooks. In most cases the cause is unknown but there are definite associations with radiation, with certain viruses, with some anticancer drugs and with some industrial chemicals such as benzene. Treatment is, at present, primarily by chemotherapy. Removal of the spleen may help. Blood transfusions and antibiotics are commonly required. Other treatments include RADIOTHERAPY, white cell transfusions, bone marrow transfusion after total body radiation, bone marrow removal, treatment to destroy malignant cells and its replacement. Some of these methods are still experimental.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005