What is Leukemia?

Even though most people have heard of leukemia, it is a disease that is often misunderstood. For example, leukemia is sometimes thought of as a childhood disease. While it can affect children, leukemia usually occurs in people over 60. And even though many people think of leukemia as a terminal illness, survival rates are quite high.

Types of Leukemia

There are several kinds of leukemia. Some are “acute,” meaning they develop rapidly and need to be treated right away. Other kinds are “chronic” (slow-growing), and may go unnoticed for years.

One thing all leukemias have in common is they start in your bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue located inside of your bones. It makes your red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Leukemia usually occurs when your bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells. Healthy white blood cells protect your body from viruses, bacteria and other invaders. If they stop working properly, you can no longer fight infections.

Leukemia can also prevent your bone marrow from producing healthy red blood cells and platelets. These cells are important because they carry oxygen through your body and help your blood clot.

Leukemia Symptoms

Symptoms of leukemia vary, but commonly include:

  • Chronic fatigue or weakness
  • Frequent infections
  • Persistent fever or chills
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged spleen
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Abnormal bruising
  • Night sweats

One thing is for certain—if you have leukemia you can also have hope. Mercy offers treatments to restore healthy bone marrow, rebuild your immune system and return you to good health.

Leukemia Treatment at Mercy

Mercy’s cancer team understands that leukemia is a scary diagnosis. As we fight the cancer affecting your body, we’ll help protect your mind and spirit. We’ll make sure you understand how treatments will affect you. And we’ll do everything we can to keep you calm and comfortable along the way.

Your treatment strategy will depend on several factors. These include the type of leukemia you have, and whether it is slow-growing or aggressive. Your doctor may recommend you have one or more types of treatment, including:

  • Medication, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

If your Mercy oncologist feels a stem cell transplant (otherwise known as a bone marrow transplant) is the best option for you, he or she will refer you to an appropriate transplant center.

If you have leukemia, your road to recovery may feel long and challenging. But with the right team caring (and cheering) for you, you can cross the finish line—and leave cancer behind. 

Molecular Therapy

Dr. Bethany Sleckman

Learn more about this specific form of targeted therapy for cancer.

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