- Symptoms of Leukemia
- Leukemia Risk Factors
- Steps to Prevention
- Diagnosing Leukemia
- Treatment Options
- Coping with Leukemia
- Leukemia Resources
Leukemia is a harrowing disease affecting many individuals and families. Like most forms of cancer, there is no specific cause, but it appears to be on the rise. The National Cancer Institute estimates 47,150 new cases of leukemia will occur in 2012 alone. According to the University of Kansas Cancer Center, leukemia is the most common type of blood cancer.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects blood-forming cells within bone marrow. These abnormal cells hinder the way that marrow produces blood cells, causing an influx of immature blood cells that can no longer function properly. Though there are many different types of leukemia, there are four main branches:
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
Symptoms of Leukemia
The signs and symptoms of leukemia tend to vary from person to person, but these are the typical warning signs:
- Fatigue or sense of weakness
- Fever or chills
- Persistent infections
- Weight loss without effort
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Small red spots on the skin
- Excess sweating
- Bone pain
The early signs of leukemia can easily be mistaken for flu-like symptoms, but if you sense something is wrong, it is better to have peace of mind than let something like leukemia go unchecked.
Leukemia Risk Factors
Though the direct cause of leukemia is unknown, there are some lifestyle choices that tend to contribute to the disease.
- Specific blood disorders
- Previous cancer treatments
- Exposure to specific chemicals
- Genetic disorders
- Family history
- Exposure to extreme levels of radiation
Steps to Prevention
There is no specific way to prevent leukemia, but there are steps you can take to modify your lifestyle to lower your overall risk of developing the disease.
Quit Smoking - According to University of Utah Health Care, 20% of all adult acute-leukemia cases have ties to smoking. By choosing to abstain from smoking, you not only lower chances of developing leukemia but several other types of cancer as well.
Family History - If you have a family history of blood disorders or leukemia, then turn your knowledge into power and take charge of your health right now. Make an effort to stay consistent with your routine medical checkups. If you are concerned that you might be exhibiting any symptoms of leukemia, be proactive.
Avoid Chemicals - Minimize your use of certain chemicals like benzene. This is a solvent that is used frequently by workers in oil refineries, rubber factories, and chemical plants. Benzene can also be found in some household products and cigarettes. According to the American Cancer Society’s research, avoiding long-term exposure to benzene can lower your risk of contracting leukemia.
Avoid Radiation - Do your best to avoid exposure to radiation, especially if your work involves working with equipment or materials that produce radiation. Take extra protective measures by wearing protective gear and following safety procedures.
It is possible to diagnose leukemia before you experience any symptoms. Here are a few ways that leukemia is found.
Physical Exam - During this test, your doctor will exam your body for swollen lymph nodes, anemia, or an enlarged spleen, which are signs of leukemia.
Bone Marrow Testing - This type of testing involves collecting a sample of bone marrow. After the sample is tested, your doctor can determine what type of leukemia is present and which treatment option is needed.
Chemotherapy - During chemotherapy, specific drugs are used to kill the leukemia cells. Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you maybe be given a primary drug or a combination of drugs. Typically, chemotherapy is given in treatment cycles. The treatment intensity starts off high and reduces over time to allow plenty of time for rest and recovery.
Radiation therapy - This treatment uses X-rays or high-energy beams to attack leukemia cells and terminate their growth.
Biological therapy - This type of treatment allows the body fight back by helping the immune system recognize the leukemia cells and attack them.
Clinical trials - Clinical trials are credited for the advancement of many new medical treatments currently being used. Spend time talking with your doctors about the possibility of enrolling in a clinical trial
Transplantation - A bone marrow stem cell transplant might be considered in the treatment plan depending on the type of leukemia you have. A stem cell transplant may involve a donor or, in some situations, you may be able to use your own cells. Before the transplantation occurs, high doses of chemotherapy or radiation are administered to kill the diseased cells. An infusion of healthy blood-forming stem cells then aids in the rebuilding of bone marrow.
Surgery - Typically surgery is not an option when treating leukemia. On a rare occasion, however, if the spleen has grown so large that it is causing hindrance to the other surrounding organs, surgery may become necessary.
Coping with Leukemia
Being diagnosed with cancer might seem like your life has been derailed but with a strong support system, proper health care and a great treatment plan, you will find the strength you need to keep fighting back.
Here are some ways to find support and cope with leukemia.
Self-care - It might seem difficult at first, but taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do in the fight against cancer. You can do this by choosing to eat healthy, pursue the things you love and continue to rest as needed. Your life may be changing, but by treating your body well and participating in hobbies that you enjoy, you will feel encouraged to continue fighting.
Health care - With world-renowned doctors and hospitals across the nation, there are so many opportunities to find quality health care. Don’t be afraid to seek out multiple opinions, do research, and explore all your options. You may not feel like you have a lot of control over what is happening to your body, but you certainly have a say in who is treating your body.
Emotional care - Having cancer is one of the most difficult things you may ever go through. Being sick can leave you feeling lonely, tired, depressed and confused. Instead of remaining isolated, find inspiration from others by talking to survivors and hearing their stories. Try visiting a counselor; sometimes having someone listen can mean everything in the world. If one-on-one isn’t your style, give your local support group a try. Talking with other people who are on the same journey as you are can be very comforting.
Follow-up care - Depending on how your cancer treatment goes, you will still need to be diligent about maintaining proper follow-up care. Even during remission, your medical team will most likely be monitoring you closely to check for any further signs of relapse or further cell growth.
These organizations offer resources on learning more about leukemia.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 310
White Plains, NY 10605
Leukemia Research Foundation
3520 Lake Avenue, Suite 202
Wilmette, IL 60091-1064
National Cancer Institute
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
1010 Wayne Avenue, Suite 770
Silver Spring, MD 20910
American Cancer Society
PO Box 22718
Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718