Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It usually begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are formed. In leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells. Over time, as the number of abnormal white blood cells builds up in the blood, they replace healthy blood cells. This makes it difficult for the blood to carry out its normal functions.
Leukemia can affect anyone at any age, but is more likely to strike the very young and people past 40.
What is the difference between acute leukemia and chronic leukemia?
The types of leukemia are grouped by how quickly the disease develops and gets worse. Leukemia is either chronic (gets worse slowly) or acute (gets worse quickly):
Chronic leukemia—Early in the disease, the abnormal blood cells can still do their work, and people with chronic leukemia may not have any symptoms. Slowly, chronic leukemia gets worse
Acute leukemia—The blood cells are very abnormal. They cannot carry out their normal work. The number of abnormal cells increases rapidly. Acute leukemia worsens quickly, unless treated aggressively. It can be fatal, if untreated.
What are the symptoms of leukemia?
Common symptoms of leukemia may include:
- frequent infections
- feeling weak or tired
- bleeding and bruising easily
- pain in the bones or joints
- swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen)
- swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit
- weight loss.
What are the special tests for leukemia?
There are no standard or over-the-counter tests for leukemia. Your doctor can request lab analysis for leukemia that will include several type of blood tests to check the types of blood cells and look for changes in the shape of blood cells. The doctor may also look for signs of leukemia in the bone marrow or the fluid around the brain or the spinal cord. Some special tests like karyotyping, flowcytometry may also be required.
How is leukemia treated?
While treatment must be tailored to individual needs, leukemia can respond well to a program combining chemotherapy and a team approach for total care.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs in various combinations to kill abnormal cells and/or slow their growth, giving normal cells a chance. The goal of the therapy is remission, or the apparent disappearance of symptoms and evidence of leukemia. Since anti-leukemic drugs also affect normal cells, side effects are common. Therapy must be carefully administered and constantly monitored. This enables a patient to return to apparently normal health.
Will I be able to work while I’m getting treatment?
In Chronic Leukemia , patients usually can lead a normal lifestyle. However, for Acute Leukemia especially in AML they need to wait till chemotherapy is complete.
What are some common side effects of chemotherapy?
The most common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea and vomitting , however, medications known as antiemetics are available to help control these side effects.Other common side effects include: mouth sores, fatigue, anemia, dizziness, infection, pain, hair loss, and loss of appetite.
Will they go away?
Yes, temporary side effects like nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue usually go away following the completion of treatment.
What is the role of Bone Marrow Transplant?
Bone marrow or stem cell transplant is potentially a curative option in Acute Leukemia. It involves administering high dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell infusion from patient (autologous) or donor (allogenic).For allogenic BMT HLA matching (related) is required.