Leukemia is an umbrella term that describes many different types of cancer that develop in the body’s bone forming tissues, including the bone marrow and lymphatic system. With leukemia, the white blood cells don’t function properly, leaving the body unable to fight infection. Some leukemia types primarily affect children, while others are more common in adults. The disease is classified based on whether it is acute or chronic and what type of cells are affected, Read on to learn more about leukemia signs, symptoms, and treatment options.
Though symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, certain symptoms are common among all types of this form of cancer. Acute leukemia symptoms may include fever or chills, weakness, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, frequent infections, swollen lymph nodes, frequent bruising or bleeding, recurrent nose bleeds, night sweats, and bone pain or tenderness. Chronic leukemia can often exist for many years without symptoms manifesting, and symptoms tend to appear more gradually than they do with acute leukemia.
Leukemia Testing and Diagnosis
If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms that may indicate leukemia, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and blood test. Abnormal levels of white blood cells or platelets often point to leukemia. A follow-up bone marrow test takes a sample of the marrow to look for abnormal cells. If leukemia is detected, you will undergo more tests to determine how far it has spread. This determination, known as leukemia stages, helps inform the treatment process.
Treatment for leukemia depends on the type of leukemia you have and how far it has spread, and can often be complex. Most types of leukemia are primarily treated with chemotherapy, a combination of chemicals that kills the cancerous cells. This type of therapy can be given either orally or intravenously and may include a single drug or a combination of drugs. Biological therapy can help your body recognize and attack cancerous cells. Radiation therapy uses radiation to damage leukemia cells and prevent them from growing and spreading. In some cases, a stem cell transplant can replace diseased bone marrow with healthy marrow, often after another treatment regimen has been completed.
While doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes leukemia, most experts point to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. The disease is more common among those who have already been treated for another type of cancer; who have certain genetic disorders, including Down syndrome; who have been exposed to certain chemicals, including benzene; who smoke cigarettes; or who have a family history of leukemia.
If you’re experiencing the leukemia symptoms described above, talk with your doctor. He or she can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment.