A leukemia diagnosis can be a life-altering event. There are many kinds of leukemia, both acute and chronic—some are immediately life-changing, while others are less aggressive in nature.
However, there are more options for leukemia treatments than ever, making it important to know exactly which type someone has to best understand their prognosis and treatment options.
Common Types of Leukemia in Adults
Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes. This specific type of white blood cell normally creates antibodies and other cells that protect the body from viruses and bacteria.
However, when a person has ALL, their bone marrow produces too many abnormal lymphoblasts, B cells, and T cells. When these cells are part of leukemia, they’re also not very good at fighting infections and leave less space for healthy red and white blood cells.
In turn, this causes the body to bleed and develop infections more easily. The cancer can also spread to the brain and spinal cord, lymph nodes, liver, and other organs. ALL can get worse very quickly, so it’s important to start treatment right away.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes a large number of abnormal myeloid cells.
In a healthy body, myeloid stem cells can become red blood cells, platelets, and myeloblasts, which bring oxygen to all parts of your body and fight infections. However, AML causes myeloid stem cells to turn into abnormal blood cells.
Because the abnormal blood cells take up too much space, there is less room for healthy cells to develop—which can cause anemia and infection. AML can also spread to the brain, spinal cord, skin, and gums.
Some patients receive intensive chemotherapy. However, there are effective and well-tolerated treatment options for patients of all ages. These treatments improve lifespans and quality of life, while keeping patients out of the hospital.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Another type of cancer where the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. It also worsens more slowly than ALL and may not require treatment as urgently. Because this is a chronic form of leukemia, some patients may only need monitoring rather than treatment.
When a person has CLL, their bone marrow produces a lot of abnormal lymphocytes. These lymphocytes normally become white cells, but they’re not as good at fighting infection as their healthy counterparts. This in turn leaves less room for healthy cells in the bone marrow, making it more likely for the person to develop anemia and infections.
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. It is generally slower to develop than other types of leukemia and usually occurs in adults.
CML is usually associated with a genetic mutation called the “Philadelphia chromosome,” which causes the bone marrow to make a protein that causes too many stem cells to become white blood cells.
Hairy Cell Leukemia
A rare type of cancer, hairy cell leukemia causes the bone marrow to make too many lymphocytes. The condition is called hairy cell leukemia due to the hair-like projections the lymphocytes have under a microscope.
Hairy cell leukemia is unusual because it slowly gets worse, or sometimes doesn’t get worse at all. Your doctor will confirm it by looking for cells that look “hairy” on a blood test.
Symptoms of Leukemia in Adults
The most common symptoms of leukemia in adults usually include the following:
- Fever and chills
- Persistent fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots on the skin
- Night sweats
- Bone pain
If any of these symptoms appear persistently or otherwise concern you, make an appointment with your doctor.
Common Leukemia Treatments
There are many different types of leukemia and treatment options. It’s important that your doctor gets to know you and your situation so they can know which treatment will best meet your goals.
These are some of the most common and successful leukemia treatments.
One of the most common types of treatment for leukemia, chemotherapy treatment uses drugs with chemicals to kill leukemia cells.
Depending on the type of leukemia you have, you may receive a single type of chemotherapy drug or a combination. Most oncologists deliver chemotherapy either as a pill or as an injection directly into the vein.
Part of the reason why most types of cancer are so dangerous and hard to diagnose at home is that the immune system doesn’t always recognize harmful cells on its own. Luckily, immunotherapy can “train” the immune system to fight these cells.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight multiple types of cancer cells by allowing or blocking certain proteins from interacting with your white blood cells. It uses special medications to boost the immune system so it can more easily recognize and destroy harmful cells.
While individual cases can vary, certain types of immunotherapy are currently used to treat CLL and ALL.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses radioactive energy to damage harmful cells and stop them from growing out of control. It most often targets clusters of cells in one part of the body, but it can also target multiple parts if needed.
While radiation therapy isn’t a common treatment for leukemia, you may still receive it during your regimen. Here are some examples:
- If cancerous cells have spread to the brain, spleen, spinal fluid, trachea, or other specific areas of the body
- If your lymph nodes are swollen and impacting other organs or causing symptoms
- To prepare your body for stem cell transplant
- To reduce bone pain at specific sites of the disease
Targeted drug therapy uses medication that targets the proteins on abnormal cells to destroy them or stop them from growing. In some cases, they also boost your immune system so it can better attack the cancer cells.
With the advancement of molecular testing and identifying and targeting mutations, targeted therapy is becoming the preferred and most effective choice for many patients.
Bone Marrow Transplant
Also known as a stem cell transplant, bone marrow transplants replace unhealthy bone marrow with healthy stem cells. Then, the cells will regenerate healthy bone marrow.
It’s normal to receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy before a bone marrow transplant. The large doses destroy the leukemia-producing bone marrow so the transplanted stem cells can create new, healthy bone marrow.
You can use stem cells from a donor, or you may be able to use your stem cells from unaffected bone marrow in another part of your body.
Leukemia Treatments at CHC
No two cases of leukemia are exactly alike. That’s why at the Cancer & Hematology Centers, we treat every patient’s cancer diagnosis and the patient themselves as a unique case and focus on getting to know the patient so we can provide the best care plan for them. We provide multiple types of leukemia treatments, but we also offer cutting-edge clinical trials that can help you achieve remission faster.
Learn More About Leukemia Treatments
Our team of oncologists and leukemia specialists is here to help you navigate your diagnosis and treatment with peace of mind. To learn more about our leukemia treatment options, call 800-411-7999 today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How Long Is Leukemia Treatment?
How long your treatment will take depends on the type of leukemia you have. For example, ALL typically takes between 2–3 years in many cases. However, slower-developing types like CLL, CML, and hairy cell leukemia may have different treatments. They may also require several months or years of therapy and monitoring, depending on the progression of the disease.
How Successful Is Chemotherapy for Leukemia Treatment?
The success rates for chemotherapy can vary by the type of leukemia you have and your age. Acute types of leukemia typically respond well to chemotherapy, especially in younger patients.
Furthermore, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, nearly 90 percent of adults diagnosed with ALL achieve complete remission. While there is some chance for relapse and rates can vary depending on the subtype, survival outcomes and cure rates have been on the rise for the last several decades.
Does Leukemia Cause Hair Loss Before Treatment?
In the vast majority of cases, leukemia does not cause hair loss before treatment on its own.
Hair loss, or alopecia, most often happens as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Since chemotherapy drugs in particular are designed to target all of the body’s fast-growing cells, they can also attack those in your hair follicles.
Can Leukemia Go into Remission Without Treatment?
Leukemia normally cannot go into remission on its own. Almost all acute types of leukemia are fatal without treatment and will not enter remission without it.
Most people with chronic leukemia can live with the condition for many years, but it will require constant monitoring to track signs of progression.