If you or a loved one is dealing with a diagnosis of leukemia, our comprehensive oncology team of specialists at West Cancer Center & Research Institute is here to surround you with the latest treatments and technology to design a personalized treatment plan specific for your disease. Our goal is to also provide resources and information to better help you understand and manage your leukemia.

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.

Many types of leukemia exist. Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.

Stages of Leukemia

Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

There is no standard staging. The disease is described as untreated, in remission, or recurrent.

Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

There is no standard staging. The disease is described as untreated, in remission, or recurrent.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Stage 0

There are too many lymphocytes in the blood, but there are no other signs or symptoms of leukemia. (also called indolent or slow-growing)

Stage I

There are too many lymphocytes in the blood and the lymph nodes are larger than normal.

Stage II

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood, the liver or spleen is larger than normal, and the lymph nodes may be larger than normal.

Stage III

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood and there are too few red blood cells, and the lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal.

Stage IV

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are too many lymphocytes in the blood and too few platelets,  the lymph nodes, liver, or spleen may be larger than normal, and there may be too few red blood cells.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

There is no standard staging system for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), instead, the disease is classified by phase: chronic phase, accelerated phase, or blastic phase. It is important to know the phase in order to plan treatment. The information from tests and procedures done to detect (find) and diagnose chronic myelogenous leukemia is also used to plan treatment.
As the amount of blast cells increases in the blood and bone marrow, there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may result in infections, anemia, and easy bleeding, as well as bone pain and pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs on the left side. The number of blast cells in the blood and bone marrow and the severity of signs or symptoms determine the phase of the disease.

Chronic Phase

Fewer than 10% of the cells in the blood and bone marrow are blast cells.

Accelerated Phase

10% to 19% of the cells in the blood and bone marrow are blast cells.

Blastic Phase

20% or more of the cells in the blood or bone marrow are blast cells. When tiredness, fever, and an enlarged spleen occur during the blastic phase, it is called blast crisis

Symptoms of Leukemia

Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we urge you to speak to your provider as soon as possible for further examination.

  • Fever or chills
  • Persistent fatigue, weakness
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Bone pain or tenderness

How to Diagnose Leukemia

Doctors may find chronic leukemia in a routine blood test, before symptoms begin. If this happens, or if you have signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, you may undergo the following diagnostic exams:

PHYSICAL EXAM

Your doctor will look for physical signs of leukemia, such as pale skin from anemia, swelling of your lymph nodes, and enlargement of your liver and spleen.

BLOOD TEST

By looking at a sample of your blood, your doctor can determine if you have abnormal levels of red or white blood cells or platelets — which may suggest leukemia.

BONE MARROW TEST

Your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone. The bone marrow is removed using a long, thin needle. The sample is sent to a laboratory to look for leukemia cells. Specialized tests of your leukemia cells may reveal certain characteristics that are used to determine your treatment options.

Types of Leukemia Treatment

Treatment for your leukemia depends on many factors. Your doctor determines your leukemia treatment options based on your age and overall health, the type of leukemia you have, and whether it has spread to other parts of your body, including the central nervous system.

Common treatments used to fight leukemia include:

BIOLOGICAL THERAPY

Biological therapy works by using treatments that help your immune system recognize and attack leukemia cells.

CHEMOTHERAPY

Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukemia. This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive a single drug or a combination of drugs. These drugs may come in a pill form, or they may be injected directly into a vein.

CLINICAL TRIAL

Ask your physician if you are a candidate for a clinical trial.

TARGETED THERAPY

Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack specific vulnerabilities within your cancer cells.
For example, the drug imatinib (Gleevec) stops the action of a protein within the leukemia cells of people with chronic myelogenous leukemia. This can help control the disease.

RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a large machine moves around you, directing the radiation to precise points on your body.
You may receive radiation in one specific area of your body where there is a collection of leukemia cells, or you may receive radiation over your whole body. Radiation therapy may be used to prepare for a stem cell transplant.

STEM CELL TRANSPLANT

A stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Before a stem cell transplant, you receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy your diseased bone marrow. Then you receive an infusion of blood-forming stem cells that help to rebuild your bone marrow. You may receive stem cells from a donor, or in some cases you may be able to use your own stem cells. A stem cell transplant is very similar to a bone marrow transplant.

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