Leukemia Cancer Awareness Month

by Jane Meggitt

In 2010, the U.S. Congress designated September as Leukemia Cancer Awareness Month, sometimes called Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Blood cancers are the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. For reference, someone is diagnosed with a type of blood cancer every three minutes. The good news is that overall survival rates have increased substantially in recent decades, but far too many people still succumb to this disease.

Leukemia Cancer Awareness Month

Leukemia — one of the major blood cancers along with lymphoma — is usually a white blood cell cancer. The leukemia cells are typically immature white blood cells. It is the most common childhood cancer. Unlike other cancers, leukemia generally does not create tumors.

Researchers are unsure exactly what causes leukemia. It is likely that several factors contribute to the disease including genetics, environmental exposure and smoking. Patients who have undergone radiation or chemotherapy are at greater risk of eventually developing leukemia. Keep in mind that most leukemia patients do not have risk factors. Many people discover they have leukemia from the results of a routine blood test.

What can you do to support the cause? Wear an orange colored ribbon to help raise leukemia cancer awareness.

Types of Leukemia Cancer

There are various types of leukemia. Most forms are considered either acute or chronic.

Children are most often diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, but adults may also develop the disease. Acute myelogenous leukemia affects both children and adults. How acute leukemia is categorized as ALL or AML is based on blood cell types.

ALL involves lymphoid cells which normally become white blood cells known as lymphocytes. With AML, the myeloid cells are affected. These would become non-lymphocyte white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets. AML — which also affects bone marrow — progresses more quickly than ALL. Patients may decline rapidly.

Chronic leukemia comes in many varieties. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, affecting adults, is the most common type. Patients with CLL may not need treatment right away. Those with chronic myelogenous leukemia might not have symptoms for a long time, only to deteriorate rapidly after being diagnosed.

Leukemia Cancer Symptoms

Early leukemia symptoms may seem like the flu. Visit a doctor if experiencing any of the following persistent symptoms:

  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Frequent bruising
  • Frequent infections
  • Night sweats
  • Nosebleeds
  • Small, red spots on the skin
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness

Leukemia Cancer Diagnosis

After taking a medical history, the doctor performs a physical exam during the diagnosis process. Physical signs include an enlarged liver or spleen and swollen lymph nodes. Blood tests indicate the levels of white and red cells. Abnormalities may suggest leukemia. Blood tests can reveal the presence of leukemia cells.

Bone marrow tests are conducted to determine the type of leukemia. A bone marrow test consists of removing a marrow sample from the hip bone via a long needle. Pathologists look for leukemia cells and the specific characteristics of a particular type of cancer.

Doctors order imaging tests including X-rays, ultrasounds or CT scans. Such testing shows whether the cancer has spread, and if it has, where it has gone. Certain patients may undergo a lumbar puncture test — informally known as a spinal tap — to determine whether the spinal fluid contains cancer cells.

Leukemia Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends upon the type of leukemia detected. For instance, patients diagnosed with AML must undergo immediate treatment. The patient’s overall health and age play a role in their treatment options, as well.

Most patients will receive some type of chemotherapy, either in pill or intravenous form. Radiation therapy focuses on a specific area to target leukemia cells, or the patient receives whole-body radiation. For those needing a bone marrow transplant, radiation therapy is often performed beforehand in preparation.

A bone marrow or stem cell transplant replaces the marrow containing leukemia cells with healthy cells. As noted, patients must receive radiation and chemotherapy prior to a bone marrow transplant to eradicate leukemia cells. The new stem cells replenish the bone marrow. Some patients can use their own cells, but many must rely on donor stem cells.

Your Partner in the Fight

If facing a leukemia diagnosis, you seek an efficient, quality-focused patient care partner, and that is what you will find at Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology. For more than 70 years, we have been a leader in the advancement of anatomic pathology in the Western United States.

We offer HEMAQ™ , premier hematopathology services capable of fulfilling unique hematology practice requirements. Our board-certified hematopathologists have extensive experience diagnosing and treating blood cancers. For more information about our services and partners, contact us today.

Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.



Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month
Mayo Clinic – Leukemia: Symptoms and causes
Fred Hutch – What’s your cancer color?