A man looking at the sweat on his shirt, in his underarm area.

Everything You Need to Know About Leukemia

Understanding this Type of Cancer

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, characterized by the uncontrolled production of abnormal white blood cells. In this article, we'll look at the warning signs and causes of Leukemia, along with some treatment options like BESPONSA, a medication used in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of cancer affecting the white blood cells. It works by attaching to a protein on the surface of leukemia cells, delivering a toxic substance that kills the cancer cells.

8 Warning Signs of Leukemia

By knowing how to recognize the following leukemia symptoms, you may help to save someone's life. Here is what to look out for:

1. Anemia

Anemia is a symptom of leukemia. It is caused by high numbers of cancerous white blood cells ‘crowding out' red blood cells and reducing the amount of oxygen that can be carried by the blood. You may be suffering from anemia if you experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pale skin.
  • Feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Shortness of breath.

2. Bruising and Bleeding Easily

Excessive white blood cells produced in leukemia can also reduce your platelet count. Platelets are the component of blood that is responsible for clotting, and when they are low, you may find that you bruise or bleed more easily than usual. This symptom can show itself in several different ways. These include:

  • Unexplained nosebleeds.
  • Heavy periods in women.
  • Bruising easily.
  • Petechiae (flat, red or purple dots on the skin).

3. Frequent Infections

White blood cells play an essential role in immunity. They are responsible for destroying microbes such as bacteria and viruses when they enter the body.

Although leukemia causes large numbers of white blood cells to be produced, they are abnormal and cannot function as they should. This means that people with leukemia may be prone to frequent, prolonged, or recurrent infections.

4. Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are another important part of the immune system and are responsible for storing white blood cells. They are located in the neck, underarms and groins.

It is normal for the lymph nodes to become swollen and tender when you have an infection such as a cold or flu. However, in leukemia, the lymph nodes may remain swollen even if there is no infection present. Be sure to see your doctor if your lymph nodes:

  • Stay swollen for several weeks.
  • Become more swollen over time.
  • Feel hard and painless to touch.
  • Are making it difficult to breathe.

5. Abdominal Swelling

In addition to swollen lymph nodes, leukemia can cause the liver and spleen to become enlarged. These organs are normally tucked away under the rib cage, but when they are filled with a build-up of damaged white blood cells, they can be felt under the skin. Also, you may experience other, related leukemia symptoms such as abdominal discomfort and/or feeling full after eating only small amounts.

6. Weight Loss

Leukemia can cause a loss of appetite and reduced calorie intake due to abdominal discomfort after eating. Over time, this can lead to dramatic weight loss.

Unplanned weight loss can be a symptom of many different types of cancer, not just leukemia. Sudden weight loss should be investigated by a doctor.

7. Excessive Sweating

Leukemia can also cause symptoms such as fever, chills and excessive sweating. Night sweats are a particularly common leukemia symptom, although they can also be a sign of other conditions such as menopause or diabetes.

If you wake up with your sheets soaked through despite your bedroom being a comfortable temperature, ask your physician to run some tests.

8. Bone and Joint Pain

Leukemia starts in the bone marrow, and it's no surprise that its symptoms include bone pain. As the build-up of white blood cells increases pressure in the bones, you may experience sharp or dull pain depending on its location. If cancerous cells build up in the joints, these can become painful too.

There are several different types of leukemia. Some of these tend to affect children, while others are more common in adults. The most common types of leukemia are:

These conditions are named depending on which type of cells are affected and how quickly the disease progresses. There are also other more unusual types of leukemia.

Although there are different types of leukemia, the symptoms of each variety are relatively similar. This article discusses some of the key leukemia symptoms and why they occur.

The symptoms of leukemia can be similar to those of many other conditions and do not always show up immediately. In some cases, this means that leukemia is not diagnosed until the disease has already become quite advanced, making it much more challenging to treat.

The Causes of Leukemia

The exact causes of leukemia are not always known, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. Here are some potential factors that may contribute to the development of leukemia:

  • Genetic mutations: Certain genetic mutations can lead to the uncontrolled growth of immature blood cells, which can lead to leukemia. These mutations may be inherited or occur spontaneously during a person's lifetime.
  • Radiation exposure: High levels of ionizing radiation, such as exposure to nuclear radiation or certain medical treatments like radiation therapy, have been linked to an increased risk of leukemia.
  • Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene and certain chemotherapy drugs, has been associated with a higher risk of developing leukemia.
  • Family history: People with a family history of leukemia may have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease themselves, indicating a possible genetic predisposition.
  • Age: Leukemia is more common in older adults, though it can occur at any age.
  • Previous cancer treatment: Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy used to treat other types of cancer, can increase the risk of developing leukemia later in life.
  • Certain blood disorders: Certain blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), have been associated with a higher risk of leukemia.

Treatment Options for Leukemia

Treatment options for leukemia depend on the type of leukemia, its stage and the individual's overall health. Some common treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: This is the most common treatment for leukemia. It uses drugs to kill leukemia cells or stop their growth.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy rays are used to target and destroy leukemia cells, often used in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs that specifically target certain abnormalities present in leukemia cells, sparing normal cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Also known as biological therapy, this approach boosts the body's immune system to recognize and attack leukemia cells.
  • Stem cell transplant: Also called a bone marrow transplant, this procedure replaces damaged bone marrow with healthy stem cells to help the body produce healthy blood cells.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the spleen or perform other procedures to manage complications of leukemia.
  • BESPONSA: BESPONSA (inotuzumab ozogamicin) is a prescription medication used to treat adults with relapsed or refractory B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It is an antibody-drug conjugate that combines a monoclonal antibody targeting CD22, a protein found on the surface of B-cells, with a chemotherapy drug. This targeted approach allows BESPONSA to deliver the chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells, aiming to kill them while minimizing damage to healthy cells.

Foods to Avoid with Leukemia

When it comes to managing leukemia, it is important to focus on a balanced and nutritious diet. While there are no specific foods that are universally considered "worst" for leukemia, it is generally recommended to avoid processed foods high in sugars, unhealthy fats and artificial additives. Instead, incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and staying hydrated is beneficial for overall health and supporting the immune system during leukemia treatment. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary recommendations based on individual needs and treatment plans.

In Conclusion

As with all types of cancer, early detection of leukemia significantly improves your chances of survival. If you are experiencing any of the above leukemia symptoms, make an appointment with your physician to discuss them.

It may be nothing serious, but if you do have leukemia, you need to know as soon as possible to ensure the best outcome.

Article Resources