Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. There are two types of leukemia, chronic and acute, which are treated differently and have different symptoms. Acute leukemia rapidly progresses and needs immediate, aggressive treatment. Chronic leukemia can take months or years to show symptoms and may not need immediate treatment but will require ongoing monitoring.
Chemotherapy utilizes chemicals to treat the cancer. It causes many side effects such as hair loss, nausea and decline of the immune system. The complete course of therapy can be from two to five years including maintenance. This is the most common form of treatment for leukemia with the desired result being total remission. Even without symptoms, ongoing monitoring must occur to guard against relapse.
Radiation therapy is another form of treatment. It is painless and in low doses causes very few side effects. Where the radiation is concentrated and the exposure levels will determine the side effects, if any, and the severity of them. Damage to the skin, swelling and infertility are among the possible side effects.
A bone marrow transplant is an effective way to prolong the life of cancer patients. It is, however, a risky surgery and requires a donor which can be difficult in attaining. These surgeries should be performed at state of the art hospitals specializing in cancer treatment. This surgery has a high mortality rate and is therefore used only in life threatening cases.
Immunotherapy is a means to stimulate the immune system so the body can attack the cancer cells. This type of treatment is still in its early stages and continually under development. It is believed that this type of treatment may prove less harmful than chemotherapy or radiation therapy and may someday supplant these treatments as a method for treating cancer.
Long term effects of leukemia treatments may cause anemia. This side effect can be treated by blood transfusions or platelet transfusions. There are risks with transfusions but it is believed transfusions will help reduce the threat of additional complications such as heart attacks. Doses of antibiotics are also generally prescribed to leukemia patients to help counteract the danger of infection cause by declined immune system or treatment side effects.
There are currently almost 200,000 people in the United States diagnosed with leukemia and an estimated 35,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. It is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 20. There are many treatment facilities throughout the United States specializing in cancer treatment. Early diagnosis, aggressive treatment, and monitoring will help prolong life and increase chances of a person going into remission.