Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells. White blood cells have many jobs, including helping your body's immune system fight off infection. White blood cells form in your bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside your bones.
With leukemia, you have a very high white blood cell count. However, the cancerous white blood cells don't work properly, so you're likely to get infections. Those infections may be life-threatening.
Also, the cancerous white blood cells fill up your bone marrow so it can't make normal blood cells such as:
There are many different types of white blood cells but only 2 main types of leukemia:
Lymphocytic and myelogenous leukemia can be acute or chronic:
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) involves very young cells that should develop into lymphocytes but instead become cancerous. ALL is life-threatening.
ALL is the most common type of cancer in children, but it can happen at any age
ALL starts in bone marrow but can spread throughout the body and damage your organs
You may have symptoms like fever, weakness, and paleness
Doctors usually test your blood and bone marrow to find the cancer
Doctors treat ALL with chemotherapy
About 8 in 10 children and 4 in 10 adults with ALL are cured (survive at least 5 years)
Early symptoms may include:
Later symptoms may include:
Also, leukemia cells start to take over other organs, such as the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, testicles, and brain.
Doctors treat ALL with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” is one or more very strong medicines to kill your cancer cells. Other types of medicines and treatments are often used along with chemotherapy. The goal is cure. If you're cured, you have no cancer cells left in your body. If a cure isn't possible, then the goal is to decrease the number of cancer cells and keep that number low for as long as possible.
Chemotherapy may make you sicker before you get better. The medicines may:
Treatment for ALL goes through 3 phases:
Induction involves getting several strong chemotherapy drugs. The goal of induction is to kill most or all of your cancer cells (called remission).
During induction, doctors may also give you treatments to kill any cancer cells in your brain:
Chemotherapy drugs in your spinal fluid (fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord)
Radiation therapy to your brain
Consolidation involves getting different chemotherapy drugs for a few months to keep the leukemia from coming back. Doctors may also give you:
Stem cell treatment, if needed
Maintenance involves getting:
Relapse is when a disease comes back after it has been successfully treated. Doctors consider ALL cured if it doesn’t relapse within 5 years. If your ALL comes back after treatment, doctors may do:
If treatment of relapse doesn’t work, you and your doctors may want to consider end-of-life care (for example, hospice).