Recognizing Lesser Known Signs of Leukemia
A rare form of cancer, leukemia occurs in the tissues of your body that create blood cells. When people have leukemia, blood-forming tissue creates abnormal blood cells that may cause several different symptoms.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that an estimated 60,300 people will be newly diagnosed with leukemia in the U.S. in 2018. The organization estimates that 381,774 people in the U.S. are either in remission from leukemia or are currently dealing with it.
Leukemia is the most common type of cancer that happens in children. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that 4,824 children and people under the age of 20 are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia in 2018.
What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the tissues in your body that form blood, including your bone marrow. People who have leukemia produce abnormal white blood cells called leukocytes. Leukemia most commonly occurs in people who are older than age 55, but it also can affect children.
There are multiple types of leukemia, including acute myeloid leukemia, chronic leukemia, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Some types of leukemia are slow-growing and may not cause symptoms. Others are very aggressive and may require aggressive treatments in response.
Symptoms and Causes
The symptoms of leukemia will depend on what type that you have. Some of the common symptoms include the following:
- Chills and fever
- Chronic fatigue
- Infections that are frequent and severe
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Bone pain or tenderness
- Tiny red dots on your skin
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Swollen lymph nodes
The symptoms of leukemia may be similar to other conditions. Most are not certain what the cause of leukemia is. The Mayo Clinic reports that some people believe it is caused by mutations in the DNA of your cells. The abnormal cells then divide and grow, and they may crowd healthy cells out.
Many different factors will affect the type of treatment that your doctor might recommend for your leukemia. The type of leukemia a person has, the person’s general health, a person’s age, and whether it has spread to other parts of a person’s body will all impact the treatments that might be recommended.
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for leukemia. A doctor may prescribe a single chemotherapy drug or a combination of drugs. A person might also be given the medications in pill form, or may be injected intravenously.
Radiation therapy might also be used to treat your chemotherapy. This uses concentrated beams to damage leukemia cells so that they will die. Radiation treatment directs the beams to precise locations in your body where your cancer is located.
Biologic therapy is another type of treatment that your doctor might recommend. This uses medications that prime your immune system so that it recognizes and attacks cancer cells more readily.
Targeted therapy involves the use of drugs that attack specific areas inside of your cancer cells so that they will die. This can help some people to control the disease.
Finally, a doctor may recommend that you get a stem cell transplant. Stem cells are immature cells that can turn into any tissue in your body. If a person receives a stem cell transplant, the doctor may first administer chemotherapy drugs in high doses. This is done so your cancerous bone marrow dies. A person may then have stem cells harvested from their own body injected into their body, so the cells can mature into new marrow and produce healthy leukocytes. If a person is unable to use their own stem cells, that person may be given an injection of cells from a donor. Receiving a stem cell transplant is a similar process to receiving a bone marrow transplant. If a person is able to use their own stem cells, there will be no risk of rejection since the cells come from their body.
Leukemia is often treatable. Since the 1960s, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that the survival rates have quadrupled. The overall survival rate for leukemia from 2007 to 2013 was 63.7 percent. By comparison, the overall survival rate between 1960 and 1963 was just 14 percent.
Different types of leukemia have different five-year survival rates. People with chronic myelogenous leukemia had a five-year survival rate of 68 percent between 2007 and 2013. People with chronic lymphocytic leukemia had a five-year survival rate of 86.2 percent. People with acute myelogenous leukemia had a five-year survival rate of 27.4 percent. However, children who were diagnosed with this form of leukemia had a five-year survival rate of 66.4 percent. Finally, people who were diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia had an overall survival rate of 71 percent. Among children who were younger than 15, the survival rate for this type of cancer was 91.8 percent.
Researchers are working to develop new treatments for leukemia. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering, researchers are developing T-cells in the lab to target a protein called WT-1 that frequently appears across a range of different types of leukemia. They also are using a new gene therapy for people who have an inherited type of leukemia called thalassamia.
If the symptoms of leukemia is noticed, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to get properly diagnosed. If one is diagnosed with leukemia, the survival rates have increased dramatically. Many types of leukemia are now treatable, and more people are surviving than ever. Researchers continue to work on developing new treatments that may help to increase the survival rates even more.