Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s white blood cells. It begins in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bones where white blood cells are created. Healthy white blood cells are very important to the function of the immune system; they help fight off bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms within the body that cause infections. Leukemia develops when mutated white blood cells are produced in an uncontrolled and unregulated manner. These white blood cells do not perform the functions of normal white blood cells, and they grow faster and larger than a normal white blood cell. Overtime, if not treated properly, these mutated white blood cells will “crowd-out” healthy blood cells and, in the process, create serious health problems such as anemia, bleeding and infection. Leukemia cells can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs in the body causing swelling and pain.
What are the different types of leukemia?
There are several types of leukemia that affect white blood cells in different ways. Read more about the types of leukemia at: http://www.lls.org/#/diseaseinformation/leukemia/
What are the symptoms of leukemia?
Symptoms vary between the different types of leukemia. However, common symptoms include:
- Fever and nights sweats
- Slow healing of cuts
- Pinhead sized red spots under the skin
- Pale skin
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Bone or joint pains
- Swollen or painful belly from an enlarged spleen
- Getting a lot of infections
- Feeling very tired or weak
- Losing weight and not feeling hungry
- Swollen lymph nodes in armpits, neck, or groin area
- Shortness of breathes during normal physical activities
How is leukemia diagnosed?
Physical exams consist of a healthcare provider checking for physical symptoms of leukemia. He or she will look for pale skin from anemia and swelling of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.
Blood tests for leukemia measure levels of white blood cells, red blood cells and/or platelets in the blood. Abnormal levels may suggest the presence of leukemia.
Bone marrow tests include the removal (biopsy) and microscopic evaluation of a bone marrow sample to determine if leukemia cells are present. Further specialized testing of bone marrow samples may reveal certain characteristics that are used to diagnose the type of leukemia and determine treatment options.
What are the different stages of leukemia?
Leukemias have no standardized staging. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the only type of the Leukemia that can be set on a standard staging system. In the United States, CLL is staged using the Rai system.
What are the treatment options for leukemia?
This leukemia treatment information does not outline the particular therapies a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments used for Leukemia.
Primary treatment options:
- Watchful Waiting, also known as active surveillance, is close monitoring of a patient’s leukemia without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. During this time, problems caused by the leukemia, such as infection, are treated. Watchful waiting is only an option for chronic types of leukemia.
- Chemotherapy is the delivery of anti-cancer drugs through injection or consumption. These drugs circulate throughout the body and cells with growth patterns characteristic to Leukemia.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill leukemia cancer cells.
Secondary treatment options:
- Stem cell transplant rebuilds supply of normal blood cells and your immune system via injection of stem cells. This treatment is only used when an acute leukemia gets worse and previous treatment has not worked properly.
- Bone marrow transplant involves taking cells that are normally found in the bone marrow (stem cells) from a donor, filtering them, and giving them to a leukemia patient. The goal of BMT is to transfer healthy bone marrow cells to a patient after his or her own unhealthy bone marrow has been treated to kill the abnormal cells.
What are the risk factors of leukemia?
- Previous cancer treatment: People who have received certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy are at an increased risk of leukemia.
- Genetic disorders: Genetic abnormalities, like Down Syndrome, play a role in the development of leukemia.
- Blood disorders: People with diagnoses of certain blood disorders, like myelodysplastic syndrome, are at an increased risk of developing leukemia.
- Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene — which is found in gasoline and is used by the chemical industry — also is linked to increased risk of some kinds of leukemia.
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
- Family history of leukemia: If members of your family have been diagnosed with leukemia (specifically CLL) your risk of the disease may increase.
How is leukemia prevented?
- Avoiding chronic industrial chemical exposure
- Quit or never start smoking tobacco