Home Causes Symptoms and Treatment for Leukemia
Leukemia or leukaemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow and is characterized by an abnormal proliferation (production by multiplication) of blood cells, usually white blood cells (leukocytes). Leukemia is a broad term covering a spectrum of diseases. In turn, it is part of the even broader group of diseases called hematological neoplasms.
What are symptoms of leukemia?
Like all blood cells, leukemia cells travel through the body. Depending on the number of abnormal cells and where these cells collect, patients with leukemia may have a number of symptoms.
People with CLL or CML may not have any symptoms. Some patients learn they have CLL or CML after a blood test as part of a regular checkup. Sometimes, a person with CLL may notice enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin and go to the doctor. The person may feel tired or short of breath (from anemia) or have frequent infections, if the CLL is more severe. In these cases, a blood test may show an increase in the lymphocyte count.
Those with acute leukemia may also have signs and symptoms related to accumulations of immature white blood cells, such as: bone and joint pain; enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, liver, kidneys, and testicles; and headaches, vomiting, confusion, and seizures (when excess cells collect in the brain or central nervous system). They may also experience fever, weight loss, and night sweats.
Acute leukemia. In acute leukemia, the abnormal blood cells are immature blood cells (blasts). They can't carry out their normal work, and they multiply rapidly, so the disease worsens quickly. Acute leukemia requires aggressive, timely treatment.
Chronic leukemia. This type of leukemia involves more mature blood cells. These blood cells replicate or accumulate more slowly and can function normally for a period of time. Some forms of chronic leukemia initially produce no symptoms and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years.
Children who have inherited certain genetic problems - such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, Kleinfelter syndrome, neurofibromatosis, ataxia telangectasia, or Fanconi's anemia - have a higher risk of developing leukemia, as do children who are receiving medical drugs to suppress their immune systems after organ transplants.
Treatment of Leukemia
Imatinib (Gleevec) is the first line of therapy for all patients. Gleevec blocks the Philadelphia chromosome and is assosicated with very high rates of remission. Similar drugs are being developed.
Sometimes a chemotherapy medicine called hydroxyurea (Hydrea) is used temporarily to control the white blood cell count.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukemia. This treatment uses chemical agents to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive a single drug or a combination of one or more drugs. These drugs may come in a pill form, or they may be injected directly into a vein.
Standard induction therapy for acute myeloid leukemia includes two drugs: An anthracycline (such as daunorubicin or idarubicin) in combination with the nucleoside analogue, cytosine arabinoside. These drugs are administered intravenously over seven days, in the most common induction regimen. Supportive care (including anti-nauseant medications) is required during the initial hospital stay for induction therapy, which often lasts up to one month.
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