Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of ‘blood cancer’. It is a cancer of white blood cells that may affect other blood cells too. The bone marrow produces a lot of white blood cells that can’t fight infections which causes leukemia.

leukemia

Acute and chronic are two types of leukemia. In acute leukemia, the abnormal blood cells multiply rapidly and the disease worsens quickly. Acute leukemia needs aggressive and timely treatment. Chronic leukemia involves highly-mature blood cells that replicate gradually and can function normally for a brief period.

What are the signs & symptoms?

What are the diagnostic tests for leukemia?

Bone marrow test: The doctor removes fluid or tissue from bone marrow using a needle to look for leukemia cells.

Chest X-ray. It uses low doses of radiation to capture inside images of the chest.

MRI: The radio waves and strong magnets help make precise images of the affected area. MRI identifies the size of cancer and other tumors inside the body.

Blood tests: It detects the presence of abnormal red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets which may suggest leukemia.

Lumbar puncture: It helps to detect cancer spread to the spinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

PET scan: It helps to detect the cancer spread. The doctor puts a small amount of a low-level radioactive substance into the blood. The substance attaches to the cancer cells. A special camera shows any areas of radioactivity.

How advanced is my leukemia? 

The doctor identifies the spread of leukemia or leukemia stage to decide the types of treatment required. The stages are based on the cancer growth or cancer spread.

Stage 0

A high level of white blood cells without any physical symptoms.

Stage 1 

High levels of white blood cells and enlarged lymph nodes.

Stage 2 

Anemia, high levels of white blood cells, and enlarged lymph nodes.

Stage 3

Anemia with high levels of white blood cells, enlarged lymph nodes liver, or spleen.

Stage 4

Low platelets, high levels of white blood cells, enlarged lymph nodes, and enlarged liver or spleen.

Ask your doctor about the stages in detail.

What are the suitable treatments for me?

Several kinds of treatment are available for leukemia, including radiation, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and bone marrow transplant.

RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation kills cancer cells. It effectively treats leukemia as most leukemias are radio-sensitive. The rays are directed at the affected area from a machine outside the body. It kills only cancer cells.

The common side effects are fatigue, itchy skin, appetite loss (anorexia), and diarrhea (dysentery).

Most side effects may improve after radiation ends. Ask your doctor about what to expect.

CHEMOTHERAPY

Chemo is the primary treatment for leukemia. You can take chemo medicines intravenously or orally. The drugs spread through the body via the blood. Chemo is given in cycles or rounds. Each cycle has a rest time. Chemo is helpful if cancer has spread in the body. Chemotherapy may decrease the chances of leukemia recurrence.

The common side effects are fatigue, body pain, and hair loss. These side effects go away after chemo treatment ends. If you experience any discomfort, connect to your doctor.

TARGETED THERAPY

Targeted therapy is helpful to treat leukemia. The drugs majorly target specific abnormalities present in cancer cells and rarely normal cells.

High blood pressure, fatiguenauseaheart problems, and blood clot are the most common side effects. Talk to your doctor for any help.

IMMUNOTHERAPY

Immunotherapy boosts the immune system to attack the cancer cells. You can administer the drugs intravenously, as a shot, or as pills.

The common side effects are fatigue, headacheconstipation, skin rash, and appetite loss.

BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT

If any of the above treatments don’t work, the doctor may opt for a bone marrow transplant. The doctor prescribes very high doses of chemotherapy. It destroys leukemia producing bone marrow. After chemotherapy, you will get a bone marrow transplant to replace the destroyed cells.

The common side effects are mouth pain, throat pain, nauseavomiting, and infection.

What are the other treatment options? 

The other treatment options may or may not be standard medical treatments. These treatments include vitamins, herbs, and diets. Talk to your doctor about other treatment options.

What to expect after treatment?

I You may have fear of cancer recurrence. Visit your doctor every three months after the treatment ends. Do not skip follow-up visits. Your doctors will ask you about new symptoms. A physical examination and diagnostic tests may help to check recurrence.

For the first year, the follow-up visits may be every three months. After the first year, follow-up visits might be every six months, and then at once a year after five years.

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