Leukemia is cancer of the blood or bone marrow. The disease affects both children and adults, with over 30,000 new cases of leukemia being diagnosed in the United States each year. For people with the condition, the bone marrow creates irregular white blood cells that fail to die off the way normal cells do. This causes a crowding of cells, which makes it difficult for normal cells to function properly.
Types of Leukemia
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), several types of leukemia exist.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) accounts for about half of new leukemia cases every year. It is rare in children and typically affects adults over the age of 55.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is also commonly seen in adults. It is an initially slow-growing disease that makes up about 5,000 new leukemia cases.
- Acute lymphocytic (lymphoblastic) leukemia (ALL) is a quickly growing cancer. It is also the most common type occurring in young children.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) spreads quickly, as well. It can affect both children and adults.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms are specific to each case. According to the NCI, the most common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fevers, night sweats, fatigue, recurrent infections, bleeding gums and more. If the cancer is growing slowly, doctors may choose an approach known as watchful waiting. This strategy is exactly what it sounds like. It is when the patient forgoes formal treatment, opting instead to keep up with regular exams and to closely monitor the status.
If the cancer is advancing, it can be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. Targeted therapy is an approach that’s thought to be less damaging to healthy cells. It works by attacking the way in which the cancer cells divide and proliferate.
Biological therapy involves injecting antibodies that help strengthen the body’s natural ability to fight the disease. In some cases, transplanting bone marrow or stem cells can help restore the cells that have been lost or damaged due to chemo and radiation.