What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is blood cell cancer that develops in the bone marrow, where blood is formed. Healthy bone marrow makes blood cells that stop bleeding and fight infections. In leukemia, bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells that are unable to do this essential job.

What are the Symptoms of Leukemia?

  • Night sweats or fever
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Headaches
  • Bruising easily
  • Bleeding easily (for example, in the gums)
  • Pain in joints and bones
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen glands, called lymph nodes, often in armpit or neck

What are the Types of Leukemia?

The four most common types of leukemia are:

  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
Lymphocytic leukemia affects the lymphocyte cells, the white blood cells that are responsible for fighting off disease and infections.

With this kind of leukemia, symptoms start slowly and mildly. The disease creates too many lymphoblasts, the immature white blood cells that fight off infections and disease to form in the bone marrow and bloodstream. It is also called chronic lymphoblastic leukemia.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
Myelogenous leukemia affects the myeloid cells, the white blood cells that are not infection fighters in the blood. Some myeloid cells are responsible for helping blood to clot and stop bleeding.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia is a slow-growing cancer, and is caused when there are too many white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Lymphoblastic leukemia affects the lymphoblast cells, the cells that form lymphocytes, the white cells that work as infection fighters in the blood. In lymphoblastic leukemia, the bloodstream is flooded with the immature lymphoblast cells.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a blood cancer whose symptoms start quickly and is caused by too many lymphoblasts, the immature white blood cells that fight of infections and disease to form in the bone marrow and bloodstream.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
Myelogenous leukemia affects the myeloid cells, the cells that are responsible for helping blood to clot and stop bleeding.

Acute myelogenous leukemia is a fast-growing blood cancer, and is caused by too many white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.

Diagnosis

When a patient presents with symptoms that might suggest leukemia, your doctor will use several diagnostic methods to make an accurate diagnosis.

  1. Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
    • Blood Tests
    • Biopsies: During a biopsy, a small sample of bone marrow and/or bone is taken from the hip or another large bone so doctors can look at its make-up in order to find any signs of abnormal changes.

    There are two common types of biopsy used to help diagnose blood cancers and diseases:

    • Bone marrow aspiration: The sample of bone marrow is taken by putting a thin needle into the bone and removing a sample of the marrow.
    • Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of both the bone and bone marrow is taken from the bone with a thick needle.

    Once a bone marrow sample is obtained, it can be analyzed in a laboratory by a pathologist to determine what type of blood cancer or disease is present.

  2. Your doctor may want to do further tests. These tests may include radiographic evaluations.

Other tests may be necessary in order to make an accurate diagnosis of the specific kind of leukemia present.

Treatment

Leukemia is usually treated using one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy (drug therapy)
  • Radiation Therapy

Treatment is different for every patient, depending on the type and stage of leukemia, as well as other factors. Our team of specialists at MedStar Health work with patients to develop individualized treatment plans, using our comprehensive approach to cancer treatment.

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