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What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a bone marrow cancer and has many types. Each type of marrow cancer has its own treatment options and traits. This complicated condition can overwhelm any patient diagnosed with it. Talking to an oncologist about this disease is an opportunity to know more about it and how to deal with it.
An overview of leukemia
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow, which produces new blood cells. A person with this condition has bone marrow that makes excessive blood cells. The abnormal blood cells are often white blood cells. Of all the white blood cells, myeloid cells and lymphoid cells can become leukemia. Leukemia in myeloid cells is called myelogenous leukemia. If it is in the lymphoid cells, it is called lymphoblastic leukemia.
The cancer cells can circulate with blood throughout the body. These cells can reach almost every vital organ. This allows leukemia to appear in many forms. The type of bone marrow cancer depends on the organs that the cells have reached.
How is leukemia diagnosed?
The doctor will order a CBC or complete blood count as a common diagnostic test for leukemia. This test can give the doctor important information about the patient’s platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. It can also provide information about the hematocrit and hemoglobin information in the patient’s blood. Abnormally low levels of platelets or red blood cells or abnormally high levels of white blood cells may show a leukemia diagnosis.
After an abnormal CBC result
The patient with this type of CBC result must see an oncologist hematologist for a bone marrow biopsy or bone marrow aspiration. The doctor will need to take a piece of bone and marrow from the patient’s hipbone during a bone marrow biopsy. A long needle will enter the hipbone and take a sample of the liquid bone marrow during a bone marrow aspiration. The doctor will then send the samples to the lab. Staging cancer will follow if the lab sees leukemia cells. Below are other diagnostic tests that can determine the cancer's severity:
- FISH or fluorescence in situ hybridization can determine genetic abnormalities in a patient’s cells. This will determine the right treatment path.
- A lumbar puncture can check whether the cancer is already present in the CSF, which is the fluid that passes through the brain and spinal cord.
- A cytogenic analysis can help pinpoint the affected genes by spotting chromosomal changes.
- Flow cytometry can find out the type of cancer cells. This is for evaluating the absence or presence of specific antigens on the surface of the cells.
Can one prevent leukemia?
Specific lifestyle choices can increase one’s risk for different types of cancer. Changing one’s lifestyle can avoid these risks and can lower the chance of getting this disease, but most patients with this cancer do not have risk factors. That is why there is no exact way to prevent leukemia.
Smoking is often associated with an increased risk of having acute myeloid leukemia. Quitting smoking may lower one’s risk of leukemia. It decreases the risk of developing other types of cancers, as well.
What are the things the patient needs to know about treatment?
There are different types of bone marrow cancer, and there is no standard treatment for all of them. The doctor and the treatment team will create a treatment plan to address the patient’s needs. This treatment aims to give the patient a better quality of life. Below are some things to consider about treatments for leukemia:
- Watching and waiting may be an option for people who have specific types of leukemia. Routine diagnostic tests can monitor this cancer’s progress. The doctor will then recommend treatments if the cancer begins to change or if the symptoms start to appear. This can help patients avoid side effects if the treatment is necessary
- Surgery cannot improve symptoms. This cancer affects the bone marrow, so it can reach different areas of the body through blood circulation. Radiation therapy can typically only help before a stem cell transplant or to eradicate cancerous cells in the brain or bones. Targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy can treat leukemia better
- A patient can achieve partial or complete remission. In adult patients, 90% of those with lymphocytic leukemia can have complete remission
The bottom line
Leukemia is a preventable and treatable cancer. Receiving a leukemia diagnosis from your doctor may be disheartening, but with proper lifestyle changes and treatments, achieving remission is possible.
Get more information about Lindenberg Cancer & Hematology Center in Marlton at https://lindenbergcancer.com.
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