Leukemia From Diagnosis to Treatment

Leukemia is a widespread and common form of blood cancer. When people suffer from leukemia, their body doesn’t produce blood cells and especially white blood cells correctly. These cells are mutated and don’t function as they are supposed to. This lack of proficient white blood cell production is dangerous and can result in other diseases being extra effective. 

Leukemia is made even more troubling as it’s one of the most common types of cancer that young children get. In particular, acute lymphocytic leukemia is regularly contracted by children. The exact causes of leukemia are unknown. Genetic factors seem to play a big role, but it hasn’t been completely nailed down. There are risk factors for people getting leukemia however. People with genetic disorders, people who smoke, people who have a family history of leukemia and people who have received cancer treatment in the past are far more likely to get leukemia. 

Developing Symptoms

The first step in leukemia is recognizing the potential symptoms that can occur. Depending on the type of leukemia, it’s possible the symptoms can be very subtle. Acute types of leukemia show fast growth and are more likely to display their symptoms. Chronic versions of leukemia are more subtle and can develop for many different years. Symptoms that are likely to occur include: 

  • Temperature Changes - People with leukemia can suffer from fevers and chills.
  • Fatigue - A common symptom is a persistent weakness and fatigue within the body. 
  • Infections - People with leukemia will often get severe infections, or find they are getting a variety of infections repeatedly. 
  • Swelling - Specifically, swelling will occur in the lymph nodes. The spleen and liver can also swell and become enlarged. 
  • Weight Loss - This is unexpected weight loss without making an effort to do so. 
  • Petechiae - These are red spots that appear on a person’s skin. They are very small. 
  • Bleeding and Bruising - While everyone can bleed or bruise in the right scenario, people with leukemia will find they occur very easily. 
  • Sweating - This is excess amounts of sweat and occurs most commonly at night. 
  • Nosebleeds - Specifically, these are recurring and consistent nosebleeds. 
  • Pain - Leukemia sufferers may feel bone pain or a certain tenderness when bones are pressed against. 

The Diagnosis Process

Diagnosing leukemia can require a few different tests to completely determine if leukemia is present. The first step is probably going to be a physical exam when first speaking with the doctor. They will look for enlarged lymph nodes or attempt to determine if the liver or spleen are enlarged. After performing a physical exam, the next step is likely going to be a blood test. 

The most common way that leukemia is confirmed is through blood tests. A sample of blood will be taken. It will be analyzed to determine what a persons’ red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet count are at. People who have elevated levels of these may be facing leukemia. 

The final test that a doctor will potentially have done is a bone marrow test. A very long and thin needle is used to enter the hip bone and get a sample of the bone marrow within. From there, the sample is used to look for leukemia cells. These cells will help determine which type of leukemia is affecting the body and will guide treatment plans. 

Treating Leukemia

Treating leukemia is going to vary based on a person’s age, health and the kind of leukemia they get. There are many different treatment options which can be used, and it’s common for more than one of them to be employed at any given time. 

Chemotherapy is one of the most well known and understood types of cancer treatments. Chemotherapy consists of one or multiple chemicals being taken through an IV, pill form or combination of methods. Chemotherapy is generally intended for the entire body, but there are also targeted therapy options. With these drugs, weaknesses in the cancer cells are exploited and help to control the cancer as best as possible. 

Radiation therapy is also fairly well known. High energy beams are targeted at the cancerous areas (or in some cases of leukemia, the entire body). The radiation works to keep the cancer from growing. Biological therapy can often be used in tandem with radiation therapy. Biological therapy involves a drug treatment to help the immune system recognize the cancer as an attacker of the body. The immune system then attempts to stop it. 

Usually the final type of treatment that may be received is a bone marrow transplant. In these cases, the damaged bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow. Typically, this treatment is completed after radiation therapy or chemotherapy as the diseased bone marrow needs to be destroyed prior to the procedure. 

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