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Leukemia Education Package and Your Care Needs During Treatment
Hospital  >  Care Programs  >  Odette Cancer Program  >  Hematology cancer care  >  About hematology cancer care  >  Leukemia education  >  What is Leukemia? What are the Treatments?

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow

  • Leukemia affects the stem cells of the blood, which are cells that turn into different types of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets
  • The stem cell can get damaged and form leukemia cells (blasts), which can multiply, grow abnormally, and overcrowd the bone marrow
  • This stops the bone marrow from making normal blood cells and doing what it normally does

Leukemia is classed by the type of cell (myeloid or lymphoid) and can be acute or chronic:

Acute Leukemia = starts suddenly, fast-growing, develops over days to weeks

  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Chronic Leukemia = slow growing, develops over months to years

  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia

How is leukemia diagnosed?

  • History and physical examination
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) = shows the number of blood cells
  • Blood film = shows the number and shape of blood cells
  • Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy = procedure to collect and look at bone marrow from inside your bones to confirm diagnosis and determine response to treatment

What are the treatments for leukemia?

Treatment depends on the type of leukemia, risk type, genetics, your age, general health and other medical issues.

  • Chemotherapy: Medications given to destroy cancer cells and improve the function of the bone marrow
  • Stem Cell Transplant: Transferring blood stem cells from a donor and putting it into your blood; this option may not be for everyone
  • Supportive Care and Follow Up: Transfusions, antibiotics, social work and mental health support if needed
  • Clinical Trials: Access to new anti-leukemia therapies that may be added to existing chemotherapy regimens or replace them
  • Palliative Care: These include transfusions, antibiotics and treatment that maximizes quality of life