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So, What Is Leukemia Anyway?

By now, everybody's heard about the plight of Kenechi Udeze, who was diagnosed with leukemia recently.  His condition was just disclosed to the public yesterday, and there are a lot of questions that people are searching for answers to.  However, the Vikings are asking for privacy in the matter, and understandably so.  This is a huge blow to Kenechi, his family, and (to a lesser extent) the Vikings' franchise.

At this time, it appears that doctors are still attempting to determine exactly what kind of leukemia Udeze has.  To start, here's the definition of leukemia from the National Cancer Institute:

Leukemia is a type of cancer. Cancer is a group of many related diseases. All cancers begin in cells, which make up blood and other tissues. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. Leukemia is cancer that begins in blood cells.

Leukemia is classified into four different types based on two different factors.  The first factor has to do with how rapidly the disease worsens.  On this front, leukemia is classified as either "chronic" (which means it gets worse slowly) or "acute" (which means it gets worse rapidly).  After that, it gets broken down further based on what type of white blood cells the cancer affects.  This makes it either lymphocytic or myeloid.  So, between the two factors, there are four main classifications of leukemia.  Here they are, as well as some statistics on each:

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, CLL) accounts for about 7,000 new cases of leukemia each year. Most often, people diagnosed with the disease are over age 55. It almost never affects children.

Chronic myeloid leukemia (chronic myelogenous leukemia, CML) accounts for about 4,400 new cases of leukemia each year. It affects mainly adults.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ALL) accounts for about 3,800 new cases of leukemia each year. It is the most common type of leukemia in young children. It also affects adults.

Acute myeloid leukemia (acute myelogenous leukemia, AML) accounts for about 10,600 new cases of leukemia each year. It occurs in both adults and children.

And as far as treatment?  Here are some of the options given by the NCI:

The doctor is the best person to describe the treatment choices and discuss the expected results. Depending on the type and extent of the disease, patients may have chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, or bone marrow transplantation. If the patient's spleen is enlarged, the doctor may suggest surgery to remove it. Some patients receive a combination of treatments.

People with acute leukemia need to be treated right away. The goal of treatment is to bring about a remission. Then, when signs and symptoms disappear, more therapy may be given to prevent a relapse. This type of therapy is called maintenance therapy. Many people with acute leukemia can be cured.

Chronic leukemia patients who do not have symptoms may not require immediate treatment. The doctor may suggest watchful waiting for some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The health care team will monitor the patient's health so that treatment can begin if symptoms occur or worsen. When treatment for chronic leukemia is needed, it can often control the disease and its symptoms. However, chronic leukemia can seldom be cured. Patients may receive maintenance therapy to help keep the cancer in remission.

So there are a few basics about leukemia.  Let's hope that whatever it is that Kenechi Udeze is facing, he can get the treatment that he needs and get past this obstacle as quickly as possible.