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Diagnosis Leukemia

Written by Emily Pazel

 

Getting diagnosed with leukemia can be a scary time in anyone’s life, especially when hearing the startling fact that over 60,000 Americans are estimated to get the cancer-related disease by the end of the year 2019, according to the American Cancer Society.

Leukemia, according to the experts, is a cancer that forms in blood-forming tissue, and is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of blood cells, which are usually white blood cells in the bone marrow. Leukemia comes in several different forms and affects different people in different ways. While some forms of the disease are more commonly found in children, leukemia is diagnosed more often in men than in women and although it affects all ages of life, adults over 65 years old are typically more commonly found with the disease.

Treatment for leukemia can be a complex endeavor, depending on the type of leukemia and other factors. However, there are strategies and useful resources that can help make your treatment a success. Let’s dive into symptoms and things you have to look out for with this cancer-related disease.

 

Signs & Symptoms

The thought of getting diagnosed with leukemia is enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine. So, it’s good to look out for the signs and symptoms associated with the disease.

leukemia_symptoms

Although symptoms of leukemia may vary depending on the type of leukemia, common signs and symptoms can include:

  • 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

It’s important to make an appointment with your doctor if you or a loved one has any persistent signs or symptoms in the list above that may pose a problem to your health. It’s also important to note that leukemia can easily be overlooked because symptoms may reflect the flu or other common illnesses, so it’s good to contact a professional to be sure. 

Although the exact causes of leukemia are still unknown, scientists have pinned certain genetic and environmental factors to the disease. 

 

What Causes Leukemia? 

Researchers believe that leukemia can develop due to mutations in the DNA of certain blood cells, which is caused by either genetic or environmental factors, such as:

  • Age, with people 65 and older more at risk
  • Long-term exposure to radiation or other carcinogenic chemicals, like benzene
  • Smoking
  • A family history of leukemia
  • Certain blood disorders, like Polycythemia Vera
  • Certain congenital syndromes, like Down Syndrome and Fanconi Anemia

While it seems that leukemia occurs when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA, there may be other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood that could contribute to the growth of the disease. 

Once leukemia has been diagnosed, it’s typically classified based on the speed of its progression and the type of cells involved. 

As far as the speed of progression goes, doctors will narrow it down to either acute leukemia or chronic leukemia. Acute leukemia involves having abnormal blood cells that tend to be immature blood cells (blasts) that can’t carry out their normal functions and multiply rapidly, causing the disease to worsen at a quicker rate. This type of leukemia requires aggressive treatment that should be started immediately. On the other hand, chronic leukemia involves more mature blood cells, which means there are no early signs or symptoms and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years.

leukemia_in_blood

The second classification type involves the type of white blood cells affected. In lymphocytic leukemia, the lymphoid cells (lymphocytes), that form lymphoid or lymphatic tissue (which makes up your immune system), are affected. The second type, called myelogenous leukemia, affects the myeloid cells, which give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet-producing cells.

 

Types of Leukemia 

As previously mentioned, there are several types of leukemia that all affect people differently, but there are some major ones that we want to particularly point out. 

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia: This is the most common type of leukemia in young children, however, it can also occur in adults
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia: Also a very common type of leukemia, it occurs in both children and adults, however, it is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: This is the most common type of chronic adult leukemia, and you may feel well for years without needing treatment
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia: Mainly affecting adults, a person with this type of leukemia may have few or no symptoms for months or years before entering a phase in which the disease causes the leukemia cells to grow more rapidly
  • Other types: Other types of leukemia, while rare, still exist; these types include hairy cell leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative disorders

While risk factors associated with the disease can vary tremendously, if you’ve ever had previous cancer treatment, have genetic disorders or abnormalities, smoke, have a history of leukemia or are exposed to certain chemicals, you’re risk factor may be greater to one day developing this disease.

However, if diagnosed with leukemia, it’s crucial to know that treatment options are usually available.

 

How to Treat Leukemia

Once diagnosed, it’s possible that your doctor will consult with you on which treatment strategy works best. Treatment options typically include stem cell transplantation, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy, depending on which type of leukemia you’re diagnosed with and how your body will react to the treatments.

leukemia_blood_reinfusion

Cell saver device for blood reinfusion

As technology continues to expand, new treatments and new medicine options are becoming more widespread and available for patients diagnosed with leukemia. 

In fact, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have recently discovered a way to block the growth of leukemic cells, according to a study published in early October 2019. 

More specifically, the UCLA researchers found that a specific antibody can block the molecule pleiotrophin from binding to chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). According to the findings, pleiotrophin is a growth factor that normally helps the survival of the CML stem cells, and the researchers studied an anti-pleiotrophin antibody in mice and human stem cells taken from CML patients. 

When the researchers combine the antibody with the standard treatment for CML, the two treatments can completely halt the CML cell growth, according to the researchers. This major development could impact the thousands of people diagnosed with this type of leukemia. However, the researchers also noted that it could take two to five years for the research to be approved and ready for clinical trial. 

In the meantime, it’s possible that more treatments and more scientific breakthroughs will come into play for this cancer-related disease. 

Once diagnosed with leukemia, the journey to recovery is a long, not-so-easy process that may take time and patience to endure. It’s important though to know that it’s possible to beat the disease and live a long, healthy life. Scientists and researchers are working around the clock to discover new treatments and medicines to bring healthier, longer lives to leukemia patients. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing any signs and or symptoms that may be recognizable to leukemia, you should immediately consult with your doctor. An early diagnosis could be a key step in surviving the brutal disease.