What is leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells – usually the white blood cells. Leukemic cells look different than normal cells and do not function properly.
How is leukemia diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for leukemia may include the following:
- bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy – a procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.
- complete blood count (CBC) – a measurement of size, number, and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.
- additional blood tests (may include blood chemistries, evaluation of liver and kidney functions, and genetic studies)
- computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
- x-ray – a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
- ultrasound (Also called sonography.) – a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
- lymph node biopsy – a procedure performed to remove tissue or cells from the body for examination under a microscope.
- spinal tap/lumbar puncture – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.
Treatment for acute and chronic leukemias:
Specific treatment for acute and chronic leukemias will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- chemotherapy or targeted therapy medications
- radiation therapy
- bone marrow transplantation
- biological therapy – using the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
- blood transfusion (red blood cells, platelets)
- medications (to prevent or treat damage to other systems of the body caused by leukemia treatment)