Leukemia - Topic Overview
To find out if you have
leukemia, a doctor will:
- Ask questions about your past health and symptoms.
- Do a physical exam. The doctor will look for swollen lymph
nodes and check to see if your spleen or liver is enlarged.
- Order blood tests. Leukemia causes a high level of white blood
cells and low levels of other types of blood cells.
If your blood tests are not normal, the doctor may want
to do a
bone marrow biopsy. This test lets the doctor look at
cells from inside your bone. This can give key information about what type of
leukemia it is so you can get the right treatment.
How is it treated?
What type of treatment you need
will depend on many things, including what kind of leukemia you have, how far
along it is, and your age and overall health.
- If you have acute leukemia, you will
need quick treatment to stop the rapid growth of leukemia cells. In many cases,
treatment makes acute leukemia go into remission. Some doctors prefer the term
"remission" to "cure," because there is a chance the cancer could come back.
- Chronic leukemia can
rarely be cured, but treatment can help control the disease. If you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, you may not need to
be treated until you have symptoms. But chronic myelogenous leukemia will
probably be treated right away.
Treatments for leukemia include:
- Chemotherapy, which uses powerful medicines to kill
cancer cells. This is the main treatment for most types of leukemia.
- Radiation treatments. Radiation therapy uses high-dose
X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged
spleen. It may also be used before a stem cell transplant.
- Stem cell transplant. Stem cells can rebuild
your supply of normal blood cells and boost your immune system. Before the
transplant, radiation or chemotherapy may be given to destroy cells in the bone marrow and make room for the new stem cells. Or it may be given to weaken your immune system so the new stem cells can get established.
- Biological therapy. This is the use of special
medicines that improve your body's natural defenses against cancer.
For some people,
clinical trials are a treatment option. Clinical
trials are research projects to test new medicines and other treatments. Often
people with leukemia take part in these studies.
for leukemia can cause side effects. Your doctor can tell you what problems are
common and help you find ways to manage them.
Finding out that you
or your child has leukemia can be a terrible shock. It may help to:
- Learn all you can about the type of leukemia you have and its
treatment. This will help you make the best choices and know what to
- Stay as strong and well as possible. A healthy diet, plenty of
rest, and regular exercise can help.
- Talk to other people or families who have faced this disease.
Ask your doctor about support groups in your area. You can also go
on the Internet and find stories of people who have leukemia.
Frequently Asked Questions