What are the symptoms of leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer that begins in the blooding-forming tissues of the body such as the bone marrow. The cancer causes white blood cells to grow abnormally. The exact cause of leukemia is not known. Some risk factors include genetics, exposure to certain chemicals and radiation or bone marrow disorders.
Types of leukemia
Leukemia that progresses slowly is termed as chromic leukemia and if the disease progresses rapidly, it is referred to as acute leukemia. Leukemia is also classified depending on the type of blood cell affected by the disease.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) affects a type of white blood cell called lymphocyte and develops at a faster rate.
- Chronic lymphoblastic leukemia (CLL) affects lymphocytes and develops slowly.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) affects a type of white blood cells known as granulocytes and develops fast.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) affects granulocytes and develops slowly.
Symptoms of leukemia
Leukemia symptoms begin to appear as the production of white blood cells is disturbed in the bone marrow. The lack of white blood cells in the body can lead to the following symptoms
- Frequent or persistent infections are a classic sign of leukemia as white blood cells stop functioning properly due to the cancer.
- Anemia is a common leukemia symptom as cancer can affect the production of red blood cells.
- Fatigue can result due to leukemia along with weakness, palpitations and breathlessness.
- Pain or tenderness in the bones may be seen in children with ALL.
- Bruising and bleeding can frequently occur due to low count of platelets. Petechiae, which are small red skin spots, can appear due to disturbances in the blood. Abnormal growth of white blood cells can also cause heavy menstrual flow, bleeding in the gums or nosebleeds.
Often, leukemia symptoms go unnoticed as some of the signs resemble those of cold infections or flu. But if the infections persist or any of the symptoms occur frequently, it is a good idea to see a doctor to understand the cause for the same.
The doctor may want to see how some leukemia symptoms progress or affect the health of the patient before starting any therapies. Patients with chronic types of leukemia may not need to begin treatment therapies immediately after diagnosis.
The diagnosis can take place through physical exam to check for any lymph node swelling, liver health and anemia. Other diagnostic procedures for leukemia can include blood tests or a bone marrow test.
Most often, it is possible to cure acute leukemia with standard therapies. However, in cases of chronic leukemia, even though the disease can be treated, a cure most often is not a possibility.
Some treatment options for leukemia are chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy and stem cell transplant. The treatment plan may depend on the patient’s age, state of health and type and severity of leukemia. Information about leukemia symptoms can greatly help in the timely diagnosis and treatment of the cancer.
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