The term leukemia actually refers to a rather broad range of diseases, but generally speaking it can be characterized as a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. Leukemia affects the way that blood cells are produced and can cause an unhealthy excess of either abnormal white blood cells or immature red blood cells, both of which can dangerously decrease the saturation of normal, healthy blood cells. While there are quite a few different classifications of leukemia, the most frequently diagnosed are lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia, both of which can occur in either acute or chronic forms.
Lymphocytic leukemia refers to a cancer of the marrow cell which normally produces immune system cells, while myelogenous leukemia refers to cancer of the marrow cell which normally produces red and white blood cells as well as platelets. Both of these types of leukemia can occur in either the chronic or acute form, the acute form being characterized as a rapid increase of immature blood cells while the chronic form describes a slower, progressive accumulation of relatively mature but still abnormal white blood cells. Generally speaking, acute forms of leukemia should be treated right away, whereas chronic forms of leukemia often aren’t treated until the quantity of abnormal blood cells amassed becomes dangerous.
Symptoms of Leukemia
The symptoms of leukemia are the detectable, direct reactions of the body to the abnormal or malignant blood. Because the spleen is responsible for filtering out damaged or abnormal blood cells from the body, it will often swell in leukemia patients due to the huge excess of abnormal blood. The lymph nodes swell as well, due to the increase of white blood cells which would normally fight infection in and around the lymph nodes.
The loss of platelets, which are an important part of the blood clotting process, can cause increased bruising and bleeding and a reduced ability of the body to repair wounds. The loss of healthy, functioning white blood cells can cause a drastic reduction in the immune response resulting in swollen or infected tonsils, mouth sores, diarrhea, severe pneumonia and general fatigue. Additionally, shortness of breath and extreme paleness can occur due to the lack of healthy red blood cells which normally keep the body oxygenated. Finally, the overall weakness that leukemia often causes can contribute to a variety of flu like symptoms including fever, chills, and night sweats.
Treatment methods for leukemia vary as widely as the disease itself. Generally speaking, however, leukemia treatment can be divided into symptom management as well as several different phases of therapy.
- Induction Therapy refers to the effort to force the cancer into remission, that is, a state in which it appears to be responding to treatment and the symptoms become less apparent.
- Consolidation Therapy is the effort to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells.
- Maintenance attempts to prevent the disease from reoccurring.
All three phases of treatment can include varying doses of powerful pharmaceuticals, and both the induction and consolidation phases may include radiation therapy.