Leukemia is cancer of the blood that occurs whenever there is overgrowth of white blood cells.
There are two main types of leukemia: myeloid leukemia and lymphoid leukemia. Myeloid leukemia affects everything from the myeloid stem cell, causing cancer in either the red blood cells, platelets and/or four of the five types of white blood cells. Lymphoid leukemia affects the fifth white blood cell, which forms the lymph system (lymph glands and spleen).
Leukemia is further classified as either acute or chronic.
Acute leukemia comes on very quickly with a rapid rise in white blood cells—a person can be diagnosed with either acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly—a person can be diagnosed with either chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) or chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Acute leukemia symptoms often include anemia which can cause weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, spontaneous bruising, spontaneous bleeding from the nose or rectum, recurrent infections and sometimes chest pain if the individual has a pre-existing heart condition.
Chronic leukemia symptoms can include feeling full quicker or with less amounts of food, swollen lymph glands and pain or discomfort in the left side of the abdomen. Symptoms of leukemia tend to be non-specific, with a kind of generalized weakness.
Fortunately, the disease can be detected in a routine blood test often taken at your annual exam, called the complete blood count (CBC). Once an abnormal blood count is detected, patients are referred to a hematologist. If leukemia is suspected, they will administer a bone marrow biopsy, which is used to diagnose the disease and the disease type.
Cone Health Cancer Center is a comprehensive center with hematology specialists and services dedicated to properly detecting, diagnosing and treating leukemia and other blood disorders.
Dr. James Granfortuna is an oncology and hematology specialist at Cone Health Cancer Center. Dr. Granfortuna is a 1980 graduate of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine and his fellowship in Oncology and Hematology at State University of New York, Health Sciences Center.