Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. It forms when blood cells in the bone marrow malfunction and form cancerous cells. The cancerous blood cells then overrun the normal blood cells. This interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections, control bleeding, and deliver oxygen to normal cells. The cancerous cells can also invade the spleen, liver, and other organs.
Chronic leukemia is a slow-growing leukemia. Acute leukemia is a fast-growing leukemia that progresses quickly without treatment.
Signs and symptoms of chronic leukemia
Chronic leukemia develops slowly, and the early symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed. Acute leukemia develops quickly. This is because the cancerous cells multiply fast.
Chronic leukemia is most commonly diagnosed after a routine blood test. You may have low-level symptoms for years before it’s diagnosed. The symptoms may be vague and could occur due to many other medical conditions. The signs and symptoms may include:
general feelings of malaise, such as tiredness, bone and joint pain, or shortness of breath
a loss of appetite
bruising or bleeding, such as nosebleeds
enlarged lymph nodes that aren’t painful
pain or a full feeling in the upper-left abdomen, which is where the spleen is located
Signs and symptoms of acute leukemia
The common signs and symptoms of acute leukemia are:
low white blood cell counts
tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest
shortness of breath
sweating at night
a slight fever
bone and joint aches
slow healing of cuts
tiny red dots under the skin
Your treatment plan will depend on the type of leukemia you have and how advanced it is at the time of your diagnosis. You may want to get a second opinion before starting treatment. It’s important to understand what your treatment choices are and what you can expect.
Chronic leukemia progresses slowly. You may not be diagnosed until symptoms, such as enlarged lymph nodes, appear. Chemotherapy, corticosteroids, and monoclonal antibodies may be used to control the cancer. Your doctor may use blood transfusions and platelet transfusions to treat the decrease in red blood cells and platelets. Radiation may help reduce the size of your lymph nodes.
If you have CML and also have the Philadelphia chromosome, your doctor may treat you with tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). TKIs block the protein produced by the Philadelphia chromosome. They may also use stem cell therapy to replace cancerous bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.
People with acute leukemia will generally begin treatment quickly following a diagnosis. This is because the cancer can progress quickly. Treatment may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or stem cell therapy, depending on the type of acute leukemia you have.
The treatment for acute leukemia is generally very intense in the beginning. The main goal of treatment is to kill the leukemia cells. Hospitalization is sometimes necessary. The treatment often causes side effects.
Your doctor will do regular blood and bone marrow tests to determine how well your treatment is killing the leukemia cells. They may try various mixtures of drugs to see what works best.
Once your blood has returned to normal, your leukemia will be in remission. Your doctor will continue to test you in case the cancerous cells return.