- Posted by jdavis on August 24, 2011
A complete blood count (CBC) is used to diagnose leukemia. This blood test may show high or low levels of white cells and show leukemic cells in the blood. Sometimes, platelet counts and red cell counts are low. Bone marrow tests (aspiration and biopsy) are often done to confirm the diagnosis and to look for chromosome abnormalities. These tests identify the leukemia cell-type.
A complete blood exam and a number of other tests are used to diagnose the type of leukemia. These tests can be repeated after treatment begins to measure how well the treatment is working.
The ways in which patients are affected and how patients are treated are different for each type of leukemia.
Each main type of leukemia has different subtypes. A patient’s age, general health and subtype may play a role in determining the best treatment plan. Blood tests and bone marrow tests are used to identify AML, ALL, CML or CLL subtypes.
It is important to get medical care at a center where doctors are experienced in treating patients with leukemia. The aim of leukemia treatment is to bring about a complete remission. Today, more and more leukemia patients are in complete remission at least five years after treatment.
Patients with an acute leukemia need to start treatment right away. Usually, they begin induction therapy with chemotherapy in the hospital.
More inpatient treatment is usually needed even after a patient is in remission. This is called consolidation therapy or post induction therapy. This part of treatment may include chemotherapy with or without allogeneic stem cell transplantation (sometimes called “bone marrow transplantation”).
Patients with CML need to begin treatment once they are diagnosed. They usually begin treatment with imatinib mesylate. This drug is taken by mouth and does not cure CML, but it keeps CML under control for many patients for as long as they take it.
Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is the only treatment that can cure CML at this time. This treatment is most successful in younger patients. But patients up to 60 years of age who have a matched donor may be considered for this treatment. Allogeneic transplantation can be a high-risk procedure. Studies are under way to see whether CML patients have better long term outcomes with drug therapy or with transplantation.
Some CLL patients do not need treatment for long periods of time after diagnosis. Patients who need treatment may receive chemotherapy or monoclonal antibody therapy alone or in combination. Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is a treatment option for certain patients.
AML, ALL, CML and CLL patients who are in remission need to see their doctors regularly for exams and blood tests. Bone marrow tests may be needed from time to time. The doctor may recommend longer periods of time between follow-up visits if a patient continues to be disease free. Patients and caregivers should talk with their healthcare providers about long-term and late effects of cancer treatment. Cancer-related fatigue is one common long-term effect.