History of Leukemia

The history of leukemia shows that even though the disease was first diagnosed in 1827, it did not have a name until much later.

Discovery in France
It was in 1827 that Alfred Velpeau, a French physician, found that a man died of this disease. Dr. Velpeau performed an autopsy on a man who had fever and pain, was weak, had "pus-filled" blood and suffered from headaches. He also found that the patient's spleen weighed 10 pounds. The normal weight of a spleen is about 90 grams, or 0.198416036 pounds.

In approximately 1839, two other French physicians found similar cases of people with weakness, fever and enlarged organs. In 1845, Scottish physicians reported people with the same symptoms outlined above. The doctors noted that the "pus-filled" blood was actually many white blood cells piling up in the system.

Understanding the Disease
In 1845, Rudolph Virchow, a German pathologist, saw instances of leukemia and called it "weisses blut," or white blood. The term described the imbalance between the leukocytes and the red blood cells. By 1890, Paul Ehrlich, a German physician, figured out that the leukocytes were different shapes, that there were different kinds and that each kind had different functions.

By 1913, four different types of leukemia had been discovered. They were classified as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and erythroleukemia.

In the 1970s, doctors discovered ways to completely eradicate leukemia from the body. Over the past four decades, the survival rate has risen and is now at 70%. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplants. As of 2009, treatments also include a combination of agents and drugs that attack the cancerous blood cells and bone marrow while supporting the immune system.

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