Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the body produces large numbers of abnormal (usually white) blood cells. About 28,500 new cases of leukemia are diagnosed each year. There are several types of leukemia, grouped as either acute (the diseases progresses rapidly) or chronic (the diseases progresses slowly). The most common leukemias are:
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of leukemia include:
What Causes It?
Most causes of leukemia are not known. Several genetic and environmental factors are associated with childhood leukemia. The disease has also been linked to exposure to large amounts of high energy radiation (from nuclear bombs), occupational exposure to the chemical benzene, viral infections, and chemicals from cigarettes.
Who Is Most At Risk?
Leukemia is linked to the following risk factors:
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
If you or your child has symptoms associated with leukemia, see your child's doctor. Your child's doctor can make a diagnosis and help you determine which treatment or combination of therapies will work best.
Your child's doctor will do a physical examination, checking for swelling in the liver, the spleen, and the lymph nodes, and will order certain laboratory tests. The bone marrow is examined for leukemia cells or to determine the type of leukemia. A lumbar puncture ("spinal tap") checks for leukemia cells in the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Chest x-rays can reveal signs of the disease in the chest.
Some leukemias can be prevented by avoiding exposure to benzene, nicotine, or radiation.
Leukemia is an extremely complex disease. Treatment depends on the type of leukemia, certain features of the leukemic cells, the extent of the disease, and whether the leukemia has been treated before. Whenever possible, a patient with leukemia should be treated at a medical center that specializes in the disease.
Some of the drug therapies used to treat leukemia include the following:
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgeries may include:
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for leukemia may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM). Individuals should educate themselves and keep all medical providers fully informed regarding any and all CAM therapies they are using, both prescribed drugs and dietary supplements. While supplements and herbal therapies may be an important component of a comprehensive cancer care program, some supplements and herbs may interfere with conventional cancer care, and new research about these interactions is emerging every day. Work with a knowledgeable physician and inform all of your health care providers about any herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of gastritis symptoms (such as nausea and vomiting) based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account your constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for an individual.
Homeopathy may help reduce symptoms and strengthen overall constitution and may help lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.
Acupuncture may alleviate symptoms. Acupuncture may help to enhance immune function, normalize digestion, and address disease conditions. For many patients and physicians, acupuncture has become one of the most widely used alternative interventions in cancer therapy support.
Repeated infections complicate most cases of leukemia. Kidney failure or impaired function, and a decreasing number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), are also common complications. Treatments for leukemia can have serious side effects.
The prognosis for people with leukemia varies by the type of leukemia. ALL patients have the best prognosis, with a 5-year survival rate of 80%.
Patients with leukemia undergo extensive follow up care, including daily exams to check for infections and bleeding, weekly bone marrow biopsies after chemotherapy has begun, post remission chemotherapy, treatment for central nervous system conditions, and monitoring of urinary function.
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Review Date: 5/26/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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