Leukemia is the most common cancer among children and teens; it accounts for over 30 percent of cancers diagnosed in young people under 18. It is classified as a blood cancer, which accounts for 10 percent of all cancer diagnoses.
General Symptoms of Leukemia
Each type of leukemia has specific symptoms that are unique, but there are patterns that appear in nearly all types that include:
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Excessive sweating (especially at night)
- Feeling full after eating only a small amount
- Recurring infections and fevers
- Pain or fullness in the upper left belly
- Swollen lymph glands
- Uncontrolled weight loss
If you have noticed something suspicious, visit your primary doctor or one of our caring physicians throughout Central Kentucky. We’ll perform a thorough check-up and recommend any additional screenings, if needed.
To request a referral to one of our caring specialists, call 844.303.9355, or find a provider anytime online.
Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of the bones, where blood cells are produced. Leukemia leads to an uncontrolled increase in the number of white blood cells being made. Life-threatening symptoms can then develop and cancer cells can spread to the bloodstream and lymph nodes. They can also travel to the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body.
Leukemia is divided into two major types, acute and chronic, and within those types are subtypes:
Acute: progresses quickly and includes:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) occurs when the body produces a large number of immature lymphocytes. The cancer cells grow quickly and replace normal cells in the bone marrow, preventing healthy blood cells from being made. Life-threatening symptoms can occur.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is cancer that starts inside bone marrow, the soft tissue inside bones that helps form blood cells. The cancer grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells.
Chronic: progresses more slowly and includes:
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is cancer of a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are found in the bone marrow and other parts of the body. CLL causes a slow increase in a certain type of white blood cells called B lymphocytes, or B cells. Cancer cells spread through the blood and bone marrow. CLL can also affect the lymph nodes or other organs such as the liver and spleen; it eventually can cause the bone marrow to lose its function.
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is cancer that starts inside bone marrow. CML causes an uncontrolled growth of immature cells that make a certain type of white blood cell called myeloid cells. The diseased cells build up in the bone marrow and blood.
- Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is caused by the abnormal growth of B cells. The cells look "hairy" under the microscope because they have fine projections coming from their surface. HCL usually leads to low numbers of normal blood cells.
While each type of leukemia has its own risk factors, there are some that have been seen in nearly every type.
- Hereditary factors / family history
- Viral infections
- Caucasians are more likely to develop leukemia than African-Americans or Asian-Americans
- The risk for most leukemia increases with age
- Men are more likely to develop most forms of leukemia
- Radiation exposure, including previous chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer
If you have a family history of leukemia, it is possible to test for hereditary cancer syndromes. One of CHI Saint Joseph Health's genetic counselors can work with you and your doctors to determine if you are at risk for certain cancers and steps that should be taken to prevent cancer cells and tumors.
There are currently no routine tests for leukemia, so if you find that you are at risk, or showing one or multiple symptoms, it is important to seek help from a medical professional. They may recommend a blood or bone marrow test to check your white blood cell counts and see if there are detectible cancer cells.
If you find that you have leukemia, rest assured you have some of the Commonwealth’s best experts by your side. Our dedicated team—including board-certified, surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and more specialists—work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan. The first goal of leukemia treatment is to get blood counts back to normal. If this occurs and the bone marrow looks healthy under the microscope, the cancer is said to be in remission.
Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells with medicines delivered in varied cycles through either an IV or a pill. It is usually given if the tumor has returned or spread. Whenever possible, CHI Saint Joseph Health uses newer medications that help minimize the side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy is rarely utilized for the treatment of leukemia.
Bone Marrow Transplants
In some cases, a bone marrow transplant (also called a stem cell transplant) is an option. The procedure is used to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells, which are immature cells in the bone marrow that give rise to all of your blood cells. A bone marrow transplant replaces bone marrow that either is not working properly or has been destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation.
Throughout your journey, you’ll find a variety of cancer support services to meet your physical, emotional, spiritual and financial needs. We’ll help you coordinate your care, answer any questions and provide extra comfort and support every step of the way.