Leukemia is defined as the cancer of blood or bone marrow which is responsible for the production of blood cells. A person who has leukemia generally suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, especially leukocytes, also known as white blood cells, that are responsible for protecting the body against any sort of allergy or infection.
The first step to getting the proper treatment for any disease or medical condition is to be correctly diagnosed by a physician. Start by making an appointment to see your doctor if you have observed any of the signs and symptoms associated with leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms are the following:
- persistent fatigue or weakness
- affected immune system
- losing weight without trying
- fever or chills
- swollen lymph nodes
- frequent or recurring infections
- recurrent nosebleeds
- easy bruising and bleeding
- excessive sweating, especially at night
- tiny red spots in the skin
- bone and joint pain or tenderness
To help cure this disease, the doctor will subject you to several diagnostic tests, commonly a physical examination, blood tests, and a bone marrow test. A physical examination is important so that the doctor can look for signs of enlargement or swelling of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen through palpitation, as well as paleness in the skin due to anemia or low levels of red blood cells and petechiae or tiny red spots in the skin.
A complete blood count is also essential, as it will determine if your blood levels, specifically the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are within the normal range. Any abnormality in the blood levels, especially of the white blood cells, would suggest the presence of leukemia. If only a small amount of blood is needed by your doctor, then he can obtain it by simply pricking your finger. Your blood sample is then placed on a glass laboratory slide to be examined under a microscope or in a test tube for analysis. The doctor may even advise you to take a CBC (Complete Blood Count) test that may give a general picture of your health. A CBC test measures the number of red cells, white cells (neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes) and platelets, along with levels of hemoglobin and hematocritin in your blood. This test may aid the doctor in monitoring your condition or to track your response to the treatment. However, if the CBC test results are abnormal or unclear, then you may be ordered to opt for a Blood Smear test, also known as a peripheral blood smear or a manual differential, where the exact number and appearance of the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are determined. This test helps the doctor in monitoring the cell production and cell maturity before and during the therapy.
After the blood tests, the patient would be recommended to undergo a bone marrow test, wherein the doctor will aspirate a sample of the bone marrow from the patient’s hipbone using a long and thin needle that is then sent to a laboratory to look for leukemia cells, which help us to determine the type of leukemia the patient has. Specialized tests of the leukemia cells may reveal certain characteristics that may be used by the doctor to determine the future treatment options. Most of the treatment plans for leukemia are a combination of different strategies considering several factors and organized into three steps which are induction, consolidation, and maintenance. During the induction phase through the use of chemotherapy and some corticosteroid drugs, the focus is to kill off the cancer cells that are present in the blood and bone marrow. This stage normally lasts for about four weeks, and confinement in a medical facility is necessary, as regular and constant monitoring from a health care professional is imperative.
The next stage of the treatment is the consolidation therapy, which aims to destroy the dormant cancer cells or those that are not yet detected through the diagnostic tests that have been conducted but can be triggered as active cancer cells later on, causing a relapse if not killed. The treatments used during this stage include chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, and even radiation therapy. At this point, medical treatments of the symptoms do not necessary mean hospitalization, as it may last for several months and can be managed through regular out-patient doctor’s appointments. At this point, the patient may receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy the diseased bone marrow, which may be followed by an infusion of blood-forming stem cells.
The final stage of the leukemia treatment is the maintenance therapy, wherein the patient has shown significant improvement in his or her health status, including the laboratory findings, but treatment will continue on preventing the recurrence of leukemia cells. Lower doses of chemotherapy as compared with the first two stages will be prescribed to the patient, such as with pills. The maintenance stage is normally continued for about 3 years, still with regular visits to the doctor, including blood tests.
An important part of the holistic treatment of a patient with leukemia is developing ways and techniques to ensure that the person will be able to cope with the changes, as well as have adequate support all throughout the process, as it will take time to conclude. Emotional support can come from a friend, family member, and/or a significant other, who would also take time to gain knowledge about the condition, the prognosis, and the treatments that the patient would have to undergo. Understanding what you will go through as well as the people around you who would help to take care of you, especially when the symptoms become worse, will guarantee to build confidence that the treatment will eventually work and cure you of the disease. The patient must always remain fully aware of how his body is responding and immediately contact a doctor if he feels any sort of disregard and deterioration occurring because of the disease. With prescribed medications, it is equally important that the patient takes good care of his natural diet and working criteria.