Understanding Leukemia

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by an abnormal increase of immature white blood cells.

When you are healthy, your bone marrow makes:

  • White blood cells, which help your body fight infection.
  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
  • Platelets, which help your blood clot.

When you have leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal whiteblood cells, called leukemia cells.
They don’t do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don’t stop growing when they should.
Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out the normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections.
Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling or pain.

Four Main Types of Leukemia:

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocyctic Leukemia

How is it treated?

What type of treatment you need will depend on many things, including what kind of leukemia you have, how far along it is, and your age and overall health.

  • If you have acute leukemia, you will need quick treatment to stop the rapid growth of leukemia cells. In many cases, treatment makes acute leukemia go into remission. Some doctors prefer the term “remission” to “cure,” because there is a chance the cancer could come back.
  • Chronic leukemia can rarely be cured, but treatment can help control the disease. If you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, you may not need to be treated until you have symptoms. But chronic myelogenous leukemia will probably be treated right away.

Treatments for leukemia include:

  • Chemotherapy, which uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells. This is the main treatment for most types of leukemia.
  • Radiation treatments. Radiation therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged spleen. It may also be used before a stem cell transplant.
  • Stem cell transplant. Stem cells can rebuild your supply of normal blood cells and boost your immune system. Before the transplant, radiation or chemotherapy may be given to destroy cells in the bone marrow and make room for the new stem cells. Or it may be given to weaken your immune system so the new stem cells can get established.
  • Biological therapy. This is the use of special medicines that improve your body’s natural defenses against cancer.

For some people, clinical trials are a treatment option. Clinical trials are research projects to test new medicines and other
treatments. Often people with leukemia take part in these studies.

Learn More About Leukemia

Cited from www.webmd.com and www.lls.org

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