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Leukemia - Types and Early Symptoms

By Dr. Sandeep Batra in Cancer Care / Oncology , Medical Oncology

Nov 08 , 2020 | 3 min read

A type of cancer that affects the blood cells, leukaemia hinders the body’s immunity. In blood cancer, there is a rapid production of white blood cells in the bone marrow, which in turn, affects the production of red blood cells and platelets in the body.

There are four main types of Leukemia which are segregated into two groups viz. Acute and Chronic. Acute Leukemias develop quickly and get worse rapidly, whereas Chronic Leukemias develop at a slower pace and get worse over a long time.

1. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

ALL is an acute form of cancer and is characterized by overproduction of immature lymphocytes (white blood cells) by the bone marrow. It is more common in children but can affect adults as well.

2. Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Acute Myeloid Leukemia specifically affects the myeloid line of blood cells. It occurs when a myeloblast goes through genetic changes and freezes at an immature stage.

3. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common form of leukaemia in adults. In case of CLL, the abnormal and immature cells develop from early blood cells which are known as lymphoid blood stem cells.

4. Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia occurs when cancerous cells develop from myeloid blood stem cells. An early genetic change in stem cells leads to the development of BCR-ABL which turns a normal myeloid cell to a CML cell.

Early Signs and Symptoms

It is necessary to identify the symptoms of Leukemia at the earliest so that the person can consult an oncologist at the earliest for early diagnosis & improved outcomes.

Here are the early signs and symptoms that indicate the onset of leukaemia:

  1. Weakness and Fatigue: Extreme fatigue and weakness that does not go away with time can be a sign of leukaemia. If the concerned person has extreme tiredness that is not getting better with rest or supplements, it may indicate leukaemia.
  2. Recurring Infections: A person with leukaemia is likely to get affected by infections more frequently than other people. This is due to the inability of white blood cells to fight the infections. Some infections that can be recurring at regular intervals will include symptoms like a persistent cough, fever, loose motions etc. which may not improve even after taking medicines.
  3. Weight Loss: Leukemia cells may build up and grow in the abdomen affecting liver, spleen and lymph nodes, thereby increasing their size and occupying more space in the abdomen. This coupled with cancer-related cachexia can lead to loss of appetite which in turn, leads to weight loss in the patients.
  4. Swelling: People can experience swelling in the neck, armpit or groin when leukaemia starts affecting the lymph nodes.
  5. Shortness of Breath: A person who has leukaemia may experience trouble breathing. Breathing issues can be a result of swollen lymph nodes inside the chest compressing windpipe. If the person experiences any pain during breathing, immediate medical attention is required.
  6. Fever: Fever is a general symptom seen in cases of Leukemia. A person may also experience chills and night sweats frequently.
  7. Pain in bones: Leukemia causes the body to start producing marrow cells in the bone marrow at an accelerated rate. This leads to aches and pains in the joints and bones.
  8. Anemia: Anemia is a condition that is commonly seen in people who have Leukemia. It leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells and thus haemoglobin in the body which makes the person experience weakness, fatigue and rapid breathing.
  9. Bruising and bleeding: Bruises and bleeding can occur even with a minor injury, especially in children. If a child bleeds even from a minor injury it is necessary to get blood tests done well before time. This will help to determine if there is an abnormally low platelet count and may indicate Leukemia.
  10. Presence of tiny red spots on the skin: The person may also develop small red spots on the skin called petechiae. These happen due to bleeding in the tiny blood vessels.

Anyone witnessing the symptoms as mentioned above should seek immediate medical attention at any of the best cancer hospitals in India. If the tests reveal blood cancer, then they can also get effective cancer treatment in India at Max Healthcare.

Leukemia requires a more personalized treatment tailored to the needs of an individual. Chemotherapy combined with a team approach to intensive care is employed in all cases. In certain cases of acute leukaemia, a bone Marrow Transplant is done as a potentially curative treatment option. 

Check out the article: Is Blood Cancer Curable?