Healthy bone marrow makes blood cells that stop bleeding and fight infections. In leukemia, a blood cell cancer, bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells that are unable to do this essential job.
The four most common types of leukemia are:
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemiaaffects the lymphocyte cells, the white blood cells that are responsible for fighting off disease and infections. Symptoms of this disease start slowly and mildly.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia affects the lymphoblast cells, the cells that form lymphocytes, the white cells that work as infection fighters in the blood. In lymphoblastic leukemia, the bloodstream is flooded with the immature lymphoblast cells. Symptoms of this disease start quickly.
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia is a slow-growing cancer that affects the myeloid cells. It is caused by too many white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.
- Acute myelogenous leukemia is a fast-growing blood cancer caused by too many white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.
Symptoms of leukemia include:
- Night sweats or fever
- Feeling tired or weak
- Bruising easily
- Bleeding easily (for example, in the gums)
- Pain in joints and bones
- Weight loss
- Swollen glands, called lymph nodes, often in armpit or neck
When a patient presents with symptoms that might suggest leukemia, our MedStar Health specialist will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Biopsies: During a biopsy, a small sample of bone marrow and/or bone is taken from the hip or another large bone so doctors can look at its make-up in order to find any signs of abnormal changes. Two common types of biopsy used to help diagnose blood cancers and diseases include:
- Bone marrow aspiration: The sample of bone marrow is taken by putting a thin needle into the bone and removing a sample of the marrow.
- Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of both the bone and bone marrow is taken from the bone with a thick needle.
Once a bone marrow sample is obtained, it can be analyzed in a laboratory by a pathologist to determine what type of blood cancer or disease is present.
Leukemia is usually treated using one or more of the following:
- Chemotherapy (drug therapy)
- Radiation Therapy
Treatment is different for every patient, depending on the type and stage of leukemia, as well as other factors. Our team of specialists at MedStar Health works with patients to develop individualized treatment plans, using our comprehensive approach to cancer treatment.