Leukemia, generally referred to as blood cancer, is cancer of the blood cells, including the bone marrow and lymphatic system. Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells, known as leukocytes or leucocyte—the cells of your immune system that are responsible for protecting your body against infection and potentially hazardous foreign invaders—but can also include other blood cell types. When leukemia strikes, your bone marrow produces abnormal blood cells which do not function properly, leading to a whole host of problems including fatigue, weight loss, excessive bleeding, infections and anemia. Leukemia is most prevalent in adults over the age of 55, though it is the most common cancer affecting children ages 15 and below.
It is important to meet with a qualified healthcare provider to ensure proper treatment. To schedule a consultation with an oncologist in that specializes in leukemia treatment, call or contact us online.
While leukemia symptoms vary depending on the individual and are largely based on the type of leukemia you have, general symptoms may include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue
- Recurrent infections which may be severe
- Unexplained, undesired weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Excessive, unprovoked bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating (especially at night)
- Bone pain or tenderness
Types of Leukemia
There are different variations of leukemia, each with its own intricacies which should be investigated to ensure proper treatment. The different types of leukemia include:
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is most common in children and occurs when there are too many of a specific type of white blood cell called lymphocyte or lymphoblast. In addition to general leukemia symptoms, specific symptoms of ALL include:
- Bleeding under the skin
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the stomach
- Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs
- Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) occurs when there are too many of a specific type of white blood cell called myeloblast. In addition to general leukemia symptoms, specific symptoms of AML include:
- Shortness of breath
- Bleeding under the skin
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), the second most common type of leukemia in adults, occurs when there are too many of a specific type of white blood cell called lymphocyte. In addition to general leukemia symptoms, specific CLL symptoms include:
- Painless swelling of the lymph nodes, underarm, stomach or groin
- Pain or feeling of fullness beneath the ribs
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) occurs when there are too many of a specific type of white blood cell called granulocyte, and is most common in people who have a gene mutation called the Philadelphia chromosome. In addition to general leukemia symptoms, specific symptoms of CML include a feeling of pain or fullness below the ribs on the left side.
To begin properly diagnosing your health complaints, a physical exam in which leukemia symptoms (such as pale skin, anemia, swollen lymph nodes and enlarged liver or spleen) are identified can stimulate further testing to determine whether leukemia is what’s ailing you. In addition, blood tests indicating abnormal levels of white blood cells or platelets may suggest leukemia. A bone marrow test may be recommended by your healthcare provider, in which a sample of bone marrow is taken from your hipbone using a long, thin needle, and examined for leukemia cells. This test can reveal characteristics that can be used to determine treatment options.
Additional tests to confirm a leukemia diagnosis and to determine the type of leukemia you have (as well as its extent in your body) may be used to classify the severity and stage of the disease in your body, as well as to determine treatment courses.
The course of treatment your healthcare provider recommends will depend on the severity of leukemia in your body as well as your age and overall health. Common options for leukemia treatment in children and adults include:
- Chemotherapy: A major leukemia treatment, chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill the abnormal white blood cells. They may be administered orally or injected into a vein.
- Biological Therapy: Biological therapy uses treatments to help your immune system recognize and attack leukemia cells.
- Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy uses medications to attack specific weaknesses within your cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses X-rays and other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. Radiation is directed at precise points in your body while you lie still.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplants replace decreased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Stem cell transplants are preceded with high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to destroy decreased bone marrow. You then receive an infusion of blood-forming stem cells that help rebuild your bone marrow.
No matter how mild your symptoms are, leukemia is serious and warrants medical intervention. To schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider in that specializes in leukemia treatment, call or contact us online.