- White blood cells (WBC), also called lymphocytes, are most often involved in leukemia. Their main job is to help the immune system.
- Red blood cells (RBC) carry oxygen throughout the body.
- Platelets help the blood clot at injury sites.
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
|White Blood Cells|
|Leukemia cells outnumber healthy white blood cells and gather in spleen and lymph nodes.|
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Age—leukemia is most common in people over aged 60
- AML and CLL are most common in adults
- ALL is most common in children
- Chemotherapy for previous cancer
- Some genetic diseases such as Down syndrome
- Chronic exposure to benzene that exceeds federally approved safety limits
- Radiation therapy from previous therapy
- Myelodysplastic syndrome—a blood disease; increases risk for AML
- Exposure to tobacco smoke
- Fever or night sweats
- Flu-like symptoms
- Minor cuts that heal slowly
- Excessive reaction to insect bites
- Feeling weak or tired
- Pale skin
- Bleeding and bruising easily
- Bleeding gums
- Tiny red spots under the skin
- Pain in the bones or joints
- Puffy gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of testicles
- Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from enlarged spleen)
- Swollen lymph nodes (particularly in neck or armpit)
- Weight loss
- Meningitis with headache, nausea, loss of muscle control, seizures, symptoms of stroke
- Blood tests—to look for leukemia cells in blood
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy—the removal of a sample of bone marrow to look for cancer cells
- Lumbar puncture—removal of liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
- Chest x-rays—to look for signs of cancer in the chest
- CT scan—type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
- MRI scan—test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- Ultrasound—test that uses sound waves to examine masses and organs inside the body
- Positron emission tomography (PET)—test makes images that show the amount of activity in body tissues
- Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec)—used to treat myeloid leukemia by reducing the number of cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow
- Nilotinib—targeted therapy similar to imatinib
- Dasatinib—targeted therapy similar to imatinib (if leukemia cells become resistant to imatinib)
- Filgrastim (Neupogen)
- Pegfilgrastim (Neulasta)
- Epoetin alpha (Procrit, Epogen)
- Blood transfusions—Healthy blood cells from a donor are given through an intravenous line (IV). This may be done if the leukemia is causing shortness of breath, fatigue, or severe bleeding.
- Bone marrow transplant—Stem cells from a donor’s healthy bone marrow are injected in you. Stem cells can make all types of blood cells. Once injected into your bloodstream, the stem cells should make healthy blood cells.
- Splenectomy—The spleen may need to be removed if it becomes congested with leukemia cells.
Biological Therapy (Immunotherapy)
- Avoid exposure to benzene.
- Avoid exposure to high levels of radiation when possible.
- If you smoke, quit.
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
Cecil R, Goldman L, et al. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
Conn HF, Rakel RE. Conn's Current Therapy 2001. 53rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2001.
Leukemia. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all%5Fpage?item%5Fid=7026. Accessed October 10, 2008.
Leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia/page1. Accessed October 10, 2008.
Noble J. Textbook of Primary Care Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc.; 2001.
A PET scan may improve leukemia care. UW HealthAvailable website. Available at: http://www.uwhealth.org/news/apetscanmayimproveleukemiacare/14001. Accessed November 2, 2009.
What is leukemia? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI%5F2%5F2%5F1X%5FWhat%5Fis%5Fadult%5Facute%5Fleukemia%5F57.asp?sitearea. Accessed October 10, 2008.
- Reviewer: Igor Puzanov, MD
- Review Date: 12/2011 -
- Update Date: 12/30/2011 -