Leukemia is categorized by how quickly, or slowly, it grows.
Chronic leukemia: Chronic leukemia grows more slowly than acute. Early in the disease, the leukemia cells can still do some of the work of normal white blood cells which means there are very few symptoms. In fact, chronic leukemia is often found during a routine checkup with blood work. When symptoms do appear, they are usually mild at first and get worse gradually.
Acute leukemia: The leukemia cells can’t do any of the work of normal white blood cells. The number of leukemia cells increases rapidly which causes symptoms to appear. Acute leukemia usually worsens quickly.
Like other types of cancer, staging is done to help the cancer care team understand the extent of the cancer including the number of lymph nodes that are affected, if any. There are several different staging systems for leukemia depending on the type. Your leukemia specialist will discuss your stage and how that affects your treatment plan.
There are several subtypes of leukemia based on the type of cell and how aggressively it’s growing. The four most common are:
Since there is no standard screening process for detecting early-stage leukemia, it is important to see your doctor regularly for a checkup. A Complete Blood Count (CBC) test is often part of a standard physical. If the results show there is an abnormally high number of white blood cells or a very low red blood cell count, more testing will likely be done.
There are specific treatments known to work well with various types of leukemia. And, in the case of some slower growing leukemias, you may be able to wait before starting treatment. The hematologist/oncologist will review the results of the tests to determine the type and stage and from there recommend a treatment plan. Clinical research trials may also be available, bringing patients the latest in leukemia treatments to the Albany area.