HEALTHY LIVING
01/20/2012 12:29 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2012

Etta James Dies From Complications From Leukemia -- What Is It?

The legendary singer Etta James has died at age 73 because of complications from leukemia, according to several news reports.

ABC News reported that James was diagnosed with chronic leukemia in January 2011. She was considered "terminally ill" late last year.

The singer has had her share of health problems. CNN reported that she also had dementia and hepatitis C, and Everyday Health reported that she was hospitalized for blood poisoning, also known as septic shock, last year. In the early 2000s, the singer underwent weight-loss surgery.

Leukemia is the name for cancer that forms in the bone marrow and other blood-forming tissue, according to the National Cancer Institute. There is expected to be 47,150 new cases of leukemia in 2012 in the U.S., and an expected 23,540 deaths from the disease.

The Mayo Clinic explains how the cancer begins:

Leukemia usually starts in the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters -- they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal white blood cells, which don't function properly.

James' manager said that she passed away from complications from the disease. While the specifics have not yet been released, the University of Maryland Medical Center reported that common complications from leukemia include kidney failure or reduced kidney function, as well as a lowered count of neutrophils, a kind of white blood cell.

There are four main kinds of leukemia; two are considered acute, and two are considered chronic (James had chronic leukemia). The acute forms of leukemia mean that the disease progresses rapidly, according ot the University of Maryland Medical Center, while the chronic forms mean the disease progresses slowly.

Risk factors for leukemia include genetic diseases, blood disorders, having been exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, having gone through cancer treatment previously, smoking, and having a family history of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The disease is treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants to replace disease bone marrow with healthy bone marrow, biological therapy to boost the immune system and targeted therapy to attack the cancer cells, the Mayo Clinic reported.

Other celebrities who have been diagnosed with leukemia include Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as Mary Travers, the musician who was part of the group Peter, Paul and Mary, according to Everyday Health.

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