Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells that begins in the bone marrow. When healthy, your bone marrow produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. When you have leukemia, the bone marrow begins to provide an abnormal number of white blood cells. These are known as leukemia blood cells and don’t do the job of normal white blood cells; instead, they grow faster than normal and halt growth improperly.
As a result of this advanced production, leukemia cells can overpower the body’s normal blood cells. This can lead to a variety of issues, including infections, bleeding, and anemia among others. Leukemia cells also have the tendency to spread to other parts of the body, such as organs and lymph nodes.
Risk Factors and Causes
Despite the best efforts of researchers to find out, nobody knows exactly what causes leukemia. That being said, some factors are known to increase the risk of developing a particular type of leukemia. These risk factors include:
- Being exposed to a large amount of radiation
- Being exposed to certain chemicals, including benzene among others
- Have previously gone through chemotherapy to treat another type of cancer
- Have some sort of genetic problem, such as down syndrome
- Smoking long term
The symptoms of leukemia are based largely on which type you have, but here are some of the most common:
- Night sweats
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Enlarged spleen which causes a swollen stomach
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Feeling tired or weak
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight
If your doctor believes you may have leukemia, they will start by collecting more information about your medical history. Your doctor will also do an exam, which includes checking your body for enlarged lymph nodes. Along with this, a variety of blood tests will be ordered, including a complete blood platelet count. This goes a long way in determining if you have leukemia, as it will provide details about the cells in your blood.
After your blood work, if your doctor believes that leukemia is a possibility, they will explore further to find out what type you have. While a blood test is typically enough to determine if you have CLL, although a bone marrow test and biopsy is required to diagnose other types.
Types and Stages
There are many different types of leukemia, with each one classified as either acute or chronic. Acute leukemia can make you feel sick right away while chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and symptoms may not be present for years. The four types of leukemia include: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL); Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML); Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL); Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
Some types of leukemia are broken down into stages while others are not.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia do not have a traditional staging system, but instead are considered untreated, in remission, and current.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is broken down in Stages 0-4
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia is systemized in 3 phases: chronic, accelerated, and blastic.
The prognosis for leukemia depends on the type, stage, and overall health. There are situations in when somebody is diagnosed with leukemia and overcomes the disease to live a normal, healthy life. In other instances, there are times when the disease is diagnosed late which results in difficulties during treatment. Along with healthy lifestyle changes, combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy is typical when treating leukemia. In the early stages making dietary changes that boost the immune system can go a long way. Stem cell, or bone marrow, transplants are recommended in more severe cases.
The best way to improve your prognosis is to follow the advice of your medical team. There are many ways to treat leukemia, regardless of the type; including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplant. Additionally, there are multiple clinical trials for people with leukemia who are not responding to traditional treatment.
The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.