Leukemia : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Management and Complications

Leukemia : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Management and Complications

Leukemia is group of blood cancers of white cells. The generation of white cells increases in bone marrow (a hollow space in bones), where most blood particles are formed.  The increased numbers of abnormal white cells are immature and are called “Blasts”.
There are two forms of leukaemia:
Acute leukemia is identified by a rapid increase in the number of immature blood cells. Congestion due to immature blood cells makes the bone marrow unable to produce healthy blood cells. Prompt treatment is required in acute leukemia due to the rapid progression and accumulation of the cells, which then leak into the bloodstream and spread to other organs of the body. Acute forms of leukemia are the most common forms of leukemia in children.

Chronic leukemia is identified by the rapid increase of relatively mature, but still abnormal, white blood cells. It may take months or years to progress, the cells are produced at a much higher rate than normal, resulting in many abnormal white blood cells. It may take months or years to progress. It may take months or years to progress.

Acute leukemia must be treated immediately while chronic forms have been monitored for some time before treatment to ensure maximum effectiveness of therapy. Chronic leukemia mostly occurs in older age, but can theoretically occur at any age group. Leukemia is a treatable disease. Most treatments involve chemotherapy, medical radiation therapy, or hormonal treatments.

Symptoms :

Symptoms of acute leukemia include:

  • Pale skin
  • Tiredness
  • Unusual and frequent bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nose bleeds
  • Easily bruised skin
  • Having repeated infections over a short space of time
  • High temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • Excessive sweating
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Weight loss

As the symptoms develop at the later stages ( Chronic):

  • Infections (that occur over a short space of time)
  • Tiredness
  • Breathlessness
  • Weakness
  • Night sweats
  • Unusual bleeding and bruising
  • Swollen spleen and swollen lymph nodes (glands)

Diagnosis :

Microscopic Examination: The blood count will show an abnormally high number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).

Bone marrow biopsy: To confirm a diagnosis of acute leukemia, the hematologist will take a small sample of  bone marrow to examine under a microscope. This procedure is known as a bone marrow biopsy.

Cytogenetic testing: Cytogenetic testing involves identifying the genetic make-up of the cancerous cells.

CT scans: If patient has acute leukemia, a computerized tomography scan (CT scan) may be used to check that other organs, such as heart and lungs, are healthy.

Lumbar puncture: If it is felt that there is a risk that acute leukemia has spread to nervous system, a lumbar puncture may be carried out.


Treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia is carried out in stages:

  • Induction – The aim of the initial stage of treatment is to kill the leukemia cells in bone marrow, and restore blood for proper working order and resolve any symptoms
  • Consolidation – The aim is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may be present in central nervous system.
  • Maintenance – the final stage involves taking regular doses of chemotherapy tablets to prevent the leukemia returning.

Treatment for chronic leukemia:

Chemotherapy: It is found very effective especially in chronic cases. Combinations of fludarabine with alkylating agents (cyclophosphamide) produce higher response rates and a longer progression-free survival than single agent.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplants: For chronic lymphoblastic leukaemia is to have a bone marrow or stem cell transplant is another option.

Complications :

Weakened immune system is a common complication of acute leukemia. In acute leukemia, person may bleed and bruise more easily due to the low levels of platelets (clot-forming cells) in blood. Bleeding may also be excessive. Complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Richter syndrome: Symptoms of Richter syndrome include:

  •  Sudden swelling of your lymph nodes
  •  A high temperature that is not caused by infection
  •  Night sweats
  •  Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain


Note : This  information provided in the website of AIMU is only for  understanding the subject . If one has such symptoms/ condition, he/she should consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.