Leukemia

Overview

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that begins in your bone marrow – the soft tissue in the center of your bones, where blood cells are produced. It causes your marrow to produce too many immature white blood cells and not enough healthy red cells, platelets and mature white cells (called leukocytes). 

Leukemia can occur in adults or in children. In fact, it’s the most common cancer found in kids and teens.

There are several different types of leukemia. Acute types of leukemia progress quickly, while chronic types of leukemia progress more slowly. Some of the most common types are:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Hairy cell leukemia

Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but may include:

  • Pain in bones and joints
  • Rashes or red spots on skin
  • Dizziness, weakness and fatigue
  • Sweating and fever, including night sweats
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Prone to bleeding or being easily bruised

Diagnosis

To diagnose leukemia, your doctor will draw some of your blood and conduct a complete blood count (CBC). If you have the disease, the test will show abnormally high numbers of white blood cells or leukemic cells, or abnormally low numbers of red blood cell or platelets.

Treatment Options

If your blood test indicates cancer, your doctor will remove some of the marrow from your hip bone (or another large bone) to determine which type of leukemia you have. Depending on your diagnosis, you might need a combination of treatments, including:

Chemotherapy: With chemotherapy, drugs target cancer cells, interfering with their ability to reproduce. 

Allogeneic bone marrow transplant/stem cell transplant: This procedure helps rebuild your bone marrow after chemotherapy. It may be recommended after an extremely high dose of chemo, which can kill off your healthy stem cells (immature blood cells) as well as the cancer cells. (“Allogeneic” means the stem cells are transplanted from a single donor.)

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