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Chronic Leukemia

Chronic Leukemia

All leukemias are cancers of the white blood cells. They begin in the bone marrow, where blood cells are formed. Chronic leukemia is different from acute leukemia. It is more common, develops much more slowly and can be more difficult to cure. There are two main forms: chronic myelogenous leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Because it is widely asymptomatic and advances very slowly, treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is sometimes put off until or unless the disease begins causing problems.

What are the symptoms of chronic leukemia?
Many people have no symptoms when first diagnosed. Many of the symptoms are vague and easily attributed to other causes, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, bruising more easily than normal, abdominal pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, night sweats/chills, infections, fever, bone and joint pain, non-painful enlarged lymph nodes, anemia, or enlarged liver or spleen. Tiny red dots under the skin may be seen.

How is chronic leukemia diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made by checking blood counts taken via a blood test and an examination of your bone marrow (CML only).

What are the treatments for chronic leukemia?
Treatment will depend on diagnosis of the exact type of chronic leukemia and your age and health. Among the possible treatments are chemotherapy, monoclonal antibodies and blood transfusions. Radiation is a possibility, as is removal of the spleen. A stem cell transplant is sometimes performed.

What are the risk factors for chronic leukemia?
This disease usually affects older people, and Caucasians are at a higher risk than people of other races. Exposure to benzene or Agent Orange and exposure to radiation, such as radiation treatment for previous cancers, are also risks.

What are some additional resources for learning about chronic leukemia?
If you or your loved one is facing chronic leukemia, CalvertHealth has a whole range of services designed to help you so you never take this journey alone. Please talk to your CalvertHealth provider or your Nurse Navigator, or check the service pages for information about treatments, services and support groups. You may also find more information on Chronic Myeloid Leukemia from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
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