An Overview of Leukemia


An Overview of Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer that strikes the blood cells and soft tissue inside the bones, known as bone marrow. Leukemia spreads quickly through the blood stream based upon its entry point within bone marrow, and treatment is critical to destroy these cells as they begin to multiply.

The onset of leukemia occurs when abnormal white blood cells are replaced by healthy cells in the bloodstream. A blood test indicating a high white blood count is usually the first sign that further testing for leukemia is needed.

Infection, bleeding and pain are symptoms that may be present with leukemia. If the cancer has progressed into an advanced stage, swelling and pain in lymph nodes may occur. A biopsy of the lymph nodes may be necessary to test for cancer cells. Treatment options are based upon the severity of the cancer’s presence within the body.

Treatment options for leukemia include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplant. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs injected into the blood stream to destroy the leukemia cancer cells. Chemotherapy is performed in stages. The first stage involves destroying cancer cells, the second stage (conducted after re-testing for cancer cells after initial treatment) involves killing any new cells that have formed, and the third stage (conducted after re-testing after the second stage) is performed to prevent any further cells from forming. Radiation therapy involves the use of machines that supply strong levels of radiation (similar to x-rays)to the body to destroy leukemia cancer cells. Stem cell transplant is performed when leukemia has reached a critical level, and involves replacing abnormal white blood cells with healthy ones through use of donors.

Leukemia symptoms in addition to those listed above; include headaches, excessive sweating, fevers, an enlarged spleen, weight loss and loss of appetite. Advanced stages of leukemia can be fatal; as abnormal cells continue to overtake healthy cells and organs within the body begin to shut down. The persistence of any of the above symptoms should be reported to a physician immediately. Through early diagnosis and treatment, leukemia can be treated, remission is possible and survival rates increase.