Know the basics
What is acute leukemia?
Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. When you have leukemia in general and acute leukemia in particular, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don’t do the work of normal white blood cells. They grow faster than normal cells, and they don’t stop growing when they should.
There are some several different types of leukemia. Generally, leukemia is grouped by how fast it gets worse and what kind of white blood cell it affects.
- It may be acute or chronic. Acute leukemia gets worse very fast and may make you feel sick right away. Chronic leukemia gets worse slowly and may not cause symptoms for years.
- It may be lymphocytic or myelogenous. Lymphocytic (or lymphoblastic) leukemia affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. Myelogenous leukemia affects the other type of cells that normally become granulocytes, red blood cells, or platelets.
The four main types of leukemia are:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia ( ALL): Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) occurs mostly in children
- Acute myelogenous leukemia ( AML): This is the most common form of leukemia.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
How common is acute leukemia?
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) can occur in children and adults. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 21,000 new cases of AML are diagnosed annually in the United States.
About 6,000 new cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) are diagnosed annually.
However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of acute leukemia?
The common symptoms of acute leukemia quite vary, include:
- Excessive sweating, especially at night (called “night sweats”)
- Fatigue and weakness that don’t go away with rest
- Unintentional weight loss
- Bone pain and tenderness
- Painless, swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck and armpits)
- Enlargement of the liver or spleen
- Red spots on the skin, called petechiae
- Bleeding and bruising easily
- Fever or chills
- Frequent infections
Leukemia can also cause symptoms in organs that have been affected by the cancer cells. For example, if the cancer spreads to the central nervous system, it can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures.
When should I see my doctor?
Acute leukemia symptoms are often vague and not specific. You may overlook early leukemia symptoms because they may resemble symptoms of the flu and other common illnesses.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes acute leukemia?
Experts don’t know what causes acute leukemia. However, in general, acute leukemia is thought to occur when some blood cells acquire mutations in their DNA — the instructions inside each cell that guide its action. There may be other changes in the cells that have yet to be fully understood could contribute to leukemia.
Certain abnormalities cause the cell to grow and divide more rapidly and to continue living when normal cells would die. Over time, these abnormal cells can crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, causing the signs and symptoms of leukemia.
What increases my risk for acute leukemia?
Risk factors for this condition include:
- Exposure to high levels of radiation.
- Chemotherapy or radiation used to treat a previous cancer.
- Conditions caused by abnormal chromosomes, such as Down syndrome.
- Exposure to chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde.
- Your family history. In some cases, CLL runs in families.
- Being middle-aged or older, male, and white.
- Having a gene change (mutation) called the Philadelphia chromosome.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is acute leukemia diagnosed?
You may undergo the following diagnostic exams:
- Physical exam: Your doctor will look for physical signs of leukemia, such as pale skin from anemia, swelling of your lymph nodes, and enlargement of your liver and spleen.
- Blood tests: By looking at a sample of your blood, your doctor can determine if you have abnormal levels of white blood cells or platelets — which may suggest leukemia.
- Bone marrow test: Your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone. The bone marrow is removed using a long, thin needle. The sample is sent to a laboratory to look for leukemia cells.
You may undergo additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the type of leukemia and its extent in your body. Certain types of leukemia are classified into stages, indicating the severity of the disease. Your leukemia’s stage helps your doctor determine a treatment plan.
How is acute leukemia treated?
Common treatments used to fight leukemia include:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the major form of treatment for leukemia. This drug treatment uses chemicals to kill leukemia cells.
- Biological therapy: Biological therapy works by using treatments that help your immune system recognize and attack leukemia cells.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack specific vulnerabilities within your cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to damage leukemia cells and stop their growth. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a large machine moves around you, directing the radiation to precise points on your body. You may receive radiation in one specific area of your body where there is a collection of leukemia cells, or you may receive radiation over your whole body. Radiation therapy may be used to prepare for a stem cell transplant.
- Stem cell transplant: A stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acute leukemia?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially if you are at high risk, is important. This includes things like:
- Avoid high doses of radiation or wear safety working clothing to reduce the risks
- Avoid exposure to the chemical benzene
- Stop using tobacco
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: February 10, 2017 | Last Modified: February 20, 2017
Acute leukemia. http://www.healthline.com/health/leukemia#Overview1. Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.
Acute leukemia. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/leukemia/basics/treatment/con-20024914. Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.
Acute leukemia. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/leukemia-topic-overview#1. Accessed 10 Feb, 2017.