Why Is Leukemia So Deadly And Is There Anything We Can Do To Prevent It?


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


Comedian and older brother to actor and comedian Eddie Murphy, Charlie Murphy, died this week at the age of 57 after losing a battle to leukemia. A report says his family was shocked because he seemed to be getting better and even joked his family was too worried about him. He was receiving chemotherapy treatment, but he did not disclose his illness to many people. Before his death, he continued to work. He was a castmate of the hit TV show “Power,” and reportedly other castmates did not know he was battling cancer. 

Reports do not reveal what type of leukemia Charlie Murphy had. There are four general types of leukemia which is categorized as either acute or chronic. Acute leukemia is generally fast-growing and can get worse rapidly, and chronic leukemia is usually slower-growing and may gradually get worse over a longer period of time. 

The four general types of leukemia are: 

  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia(CML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia(CML) 

The difference between the myeloid and lymphocytic leukemia is the type of white blood cells affected.  Myeloid leukemia starts in a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells. The lymphocytic leukemia starts with  lymphocytes. For more information on the various types of leukemia read here.

It is estimated that Leukemia will take the lives of nearly 25,000 people in the United States in 2017.  In 2014, there were nearly 400,000 people living with leukemia in the United States and new leukemia cases have been rising on average 0.3% each year over the last 10 years. Leukemia is slightly more common in men.

If you are a pop music lover, you might remember  Richard Cronin.   He was the lead singer and songwriter of the group LFO. One of his hit songs was “Summer Girls.”  His life was cut short in 2010 by acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the age of 35. 

60 Minutes correspondent,  Ed Bradley, died from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).  He was  65 years old. 

NBA Champion and All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and describes this disease best. “The word 'leukemia' is a very frightening word. In many instances, it's a killer and it's something that you have to deal with in a very serious and determined way if you're going to beat it.”

So what exactly is leukemia?

Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.  According to the  National Institute of Health ,  “[l]eukemia is cancer that starts in the tissue that forms blood. Most blood cells develop from cells in the bone marrow called stem cells. In a person with leukemia, the bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells. The abnormal cells are leukemia cells. Unlike normal blood cells, leukemia cells don't die when they should. They may crowd out normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This makes it hard for normal blood cells to do their work.”

Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, white blood cells fight infection and platelets clot the blood. Simply put, If we don’t have enough red or white blood cells or platelets, it makes it very difficult for us to stay alive. 

How can we be proactive about leukemia?

Leukemia is a very complex, tricky cancer. Several reports say there is not much you can do to prevent leukemia other than avoiding smoking and radiation exposure. It is also suggested to try to avoid exposure to the chemical benzene.  

There is a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which suggests that  diet and lifestyle may be a preventative tool for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Along with smoking, the study found people who had a higher meat intake had a greater risk of developing AML. People who did not drink coffee had a greater risk of developing AML. 

Another study suggests oranges, bananas and turmeric may reduce the risk of a child developing leukemia. Turmeric is a spice extensively used in Asia, and remember, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is less common in Asian people (both in Asia and the U.S.). The lead doctor of the study, Marilyn Kwan, studied more than 300 children to show the benefits of eating healthy foods. Kwan said the vitamin C and potassium found in bananas and oranges may reduce a child’s risk of developing leukemia (and cancer in general) if the child is given these foods during the first two years of life.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.


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