Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the body produces large numbers of abnormal (usually white) blood cells. Approximately 28,500 new cases of leukemia are diagnosed each year. There are several types of leukemia, grouped as either acute (the diseases progresses rapidly) or chronic (the diseases progresses slowly). The most common leukemias are:

Signs and Symptoms

Leukemia is often accompanied by the following signs and symptoms.

What Causes It?

Most causes of leukemia are not known. However, the disease has been linked to exposure to large amounts of high-energy radiation (from nuclear bombs), occupational exposure to the chemical benzene, viral infections, and chemicals from cigarettes.

Who's Most At Risk?

Leukemia is linked to the following risk factors.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you or your child is experiencing symptoms associated with leukemia, see your health care provider. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best.

Your provider will do a physical examination, checking for swelling in the liver, the spleen, and the lymph nodes, and will order certain laboratory tests. The bone marrow is examined to check for leukemia cells or to determine the type of leukemia. A lumbar puncture ("spinal tap") checks for leukemia cells in the fluid around the brain and spinal cord, and chest X rays can reveal signs of the disease in the chest.

Treatment Options


Some leukemias can be prevented by avoiding exposure to benzene, nicotine, or radiation.

Treatment Plan

Leukemia is an extremely complex disease. Treatment depends on the type of leukemia, certain features of the leukemic cells, the extent of the disease, and whether the leukemia has been treated before. Whenever possible, a patient with leukemia should be treated at a medical center that specializes in this disease.

Drug Therapies

Some of the drug therapies used to treat leukemia include the following.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Surgeries may include the following.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

A comprehensive treatment plan for leukemia may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.

Eating the following nutrient-dense foods that are high in antioxidants may help protect against cancer: dark berries, orange and yellow vegetables, dark leafy greens, fresh vegetable juices containing wheatgrass, beets, romaine lettuce, parsley, and cucumber.

Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include those listed below. Herbs
The use of certain herbal remedies may support the lymphatic system, spleen, bone marrow, and liver. Take a combination of the following herbs in equal parts, 30 to 60 drops three times a day. Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp./cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes). Homeopathy
An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen for treating leukemia that is designed especially for you. Acute remedies may be useful for relief of symptoms associated with complications.

Chinese herbs and acupuncture may be a powerful adjunct to conventional therapy.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

Repeated infections complicate most cases of leukemia. Kidney failure or impaired function and a decreasing number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) are also common complications. Treatments for leukemia can have serious side effects.

The prognosis for people with leukemia varies by the type of leukemia. ALL patients have the best prognosis, with a 35- to 45-percent five-year survival rate and a 40-percent long-term survival rate.

Following Up

Patients with leukemia undergo extensive follow-up care, including daily exams to check for infections and bleeding, weekly bone marrow biopsies after chemotherapy has begun, post-remission chemotherapy, treatment for central nervous system conditions, and monitoring of urinary function.


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