Leukemia Diagnosis: What's Next?

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with leukemia? If so, chances are you're overwhelmed with information and are wondering what's next. Here's what you need to know.

Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the tissues that form blood cells. Most blood cells originate in the bone marrow and differentiate to become white blood cells (lymphocyte or myeloid), red blood cells, and platelets. Leukemia develops when your bone marrow begins making abnormal white blood cells.

Types of Leukemia

There are four main types of leukemia. They are named based on the type of white blood cells they affect, and whether they are chronic (grows slowly with few early symptoms) or acute (grows fast and the disease worsens quickly).

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) typically occur in adults. CLL is the most common type of leukemia.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) are both fast growing. ALL is the most common leukemia in young children.

Treating Leukemia

It's important to treat acute forms of leukemia right away to destroy cancer cells and put cancer in remission (a period when your cancer is under control). If you have ALL or AML, your physician may continue maintenance therapy (also called consolidation) to prevent a relapse. Some patients with acute leukemia may even be cured.

The treatment goal for chronic leukemia is to control the disease and its symptoms; it's usually not curable. One option is to take a "watchful waiting" approach--visiting your physician frequently for checkups and not starting treatment until you begin experiencing symptoms, which also delays potential treatment side effects.

Types of Treatment

In addition to traditional chemotherapy and radiation, there are other treatment options for leukemia patients. Targeted therapies, for example, use drugs that block the growth of leukemia cells. They work best in patients with CML and some types of ALL. Biological therapies improve the body's natural defenses against leukemia, and stem cell transplants uses stem cells (from which blood cells originate) to grow new blood cells after chemotherapy destroys all your leukemia and normal blood cells.

If you have leukemia, you may want to consider participating in a clinical trial. Scientists are continually developing new treatments for cancer. However, they must pass rigorous safety and effectiveness testing in studies with humans before the Food and Drug Administration grants approval for patient use. Currently there are too few leukemia patients participating in clinical trials. Talk to your physician or visit www.clinicaltrials.gov to learn more about potential leukemia clinical trials.


"What you need to know about leukemia." National Cancer Institute. Web.


Yozwiak, Steve. "New Cancer Treatment Gives Hope To Lymphoma And Leukemia Patients." The Translational Genomics Research Institute. Medical News Today. Web. 1 March 2010.