Symptoms and Treatment for Leukemia

The purpose of treatment for leukemia is to demolish the leukemia cells and allocate normal cells to form in your bone substance. Treatment decisions are based on the type of leukemia you have, its stage, and your age and general health.

People with leukemia are at appreciably increased risk for rising infections, anemia, and bleeding. Other symptoms and signs contain easy bruising, weight loss, night sweats, and unexplained fevers.

The diagnosis of leukemia is supported by findings of the medical history and examination, and examining blood and bone marrow samples under a microscope. Treatment for your leukemia depends on many factors. Your doctor determines your leukemia treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body. Most patients with leukemia are treated with chemotherapy. Several patients also may have radiation therapy and/or bone marrow transplantation. There is no known way to prevent leukemia.

 

Types of Leukemia

Leukemia is also classified according to the type of cell. Leukemia involving myeloid cells is called myelogenous leukemia. Myeloid cells are immature blood cells that would usually become granulocytes or monocytes. Leukemia involving lymphocytes is called lymphocytic leukemia. There are four major types of leukemia:

  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) can occur in children and adults. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 21,000 new cases of AML are diagnosed annually in the United States. This is the most common form of leukemia.

  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) occurs mostly in children. About 6,000 new cases of ALL are diagnosed annually.

  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) affects mostly adults. About 7,000 new cases of CML are diagnosed annually.

  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is most likely to affect people over the age of 55. It’s very rarely seen in children. About 15,000 new cases of CLL are diagnosed annually.

 

Common symptoms of leukemia may include

  • pain in the bones or joints,
  • swollen lymph nodes that usually don’t hurt,
  • fevers or night sweats,
  • feeling weak or tired,
  • bleeding and bruising easily,
  • frequent infections,
  • discomfort or swelling in the abdomen,
  • weight loss or loss of appetite.
  • bone pain and tenderness

Common treatments used to fight leukemia include:

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the most important form of treatment for leukemia. This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive a single drug or a combination of drugs. These drugs may come in a pill form, or they may be injected straight into a vein.

Biological therapy. Biological therapy works by using treatments that help your immune system recognize and attack leukemia cells.

Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack particular vulnerabilities within your cancer cells. For example, the drug imatinib (Gleevec) stops the action of a protein within the leukemia cells of people with chronic myelogenous leukemia. This can help control the disease.

Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a large machine moves around you, directing the radiation to precise points on your body.

You may receive radiation in one specific area of your body where there is a collection of leukemia cells, or you may receive radiation over your whole body.

Stem cell transplant. A stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.

Before a stem cell transplant, you receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy your diseased bone marrow. Then you receive an infusion of blood-forming stem cells that help to rebuild your bone marrow. You may receive stem cells from a donor, or in some cases you may be able to use your own stem cells.

 

Risk Factors for Leukemia

The causes of leukemia are not known. However, several factors have been identified which may increase your risk. These include:

  • a family history of leukemia
  • smoking, which increases your risk of developing AML
  • genetic disorders such as Down syndrome
  • blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndrome, which sometimes called “preleukemia”
  • previous treatment for cancer with chemotherapy or radiation
  • exposure to high levels of radiation