Leukemia is not just one disease but a family of diseases that affect the body’s white blood cells, which are crucial components of the immune system. Because of this, the prognosis and the life expectancy can be different for different types of leukemia. Some types prove to be quickly terminal, while other types are treatable.
Who Gets Leukemia?
Cancer is usually a disease of aging and leukemia is notorious because so many types affect children. The good news is that some types of leukemia are often curable. The main kinds of leukemia that strike children are chronic and acute leukemia. Acute leukemia, which grows quickly, is more common. There’s also juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, a rare leukemia that is neither chronic nor acute.
There is no specific test for childhood leukemia, and a diagnosis is made after the child is brought to their doctor because he or she isn’t feeling well. Symptoms of leukemia can include fatigue and weakness, pallor, an inability to feel warm, dizziness and headaches. The child may also bruise or bleed easily and have swollen lymph nodes or joint pain.
Research into childhood leukemia include investigating changes in the DNA that lead to leukemia, the use of immunotherapy and clinical trials that allow the patients to have the most up-to-date care.
Leukemia In Adults
As with children, leukemia in adults can be acute or chronic. One type is acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL. This cancer attacks the immature white blood cells or lymphocytes while they are still in the bone marrow. Because this leukemia is acute, it will spread to distant sites such as the brain, liver, lymph nodes or spleen if the disease is not treated. In that case, the life expectancy of the patient is measured in months.
However, lymphocytic leukemia can also be chronic. In this type of leukemia, the patient may not experience symptoms for years. The other types of leukemia found in adults are chronic myeloid leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia. The myeloid leukemia affects cells in the marrow that turn into different cells than lymphocytes. The symptoms are much the same as they are for childhood leukemia, but the cancer cells in myeloid leukemia can grow very large and can be too large to pass through narrow blood vessels. This can lead to an emergency condition called leukostasis. The signs of leukostasis resemble those of a stroke.
For adult leukemia, research involves improvements in chemotherapy, immunotherapy and drugs that specifically target the genetic changes that might lead to the disease.