September is Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness month. According to the National Cancer Institute, the year 2013 will see roughly 50,000 new cases of leukemia and close to 80,000 new lymphoma diagnoses in the United States. These numbers are substantial, but arming yourself with knowledge of these diseases can help bring awareness to the fight against leukemia and lymphoma.
Q. What is leukemia?A. Leukemia is an abnormal overgrowth of white blood cells typically originating in the bone marrow with secondary spillover into the blood stream leading to high white blood cell counts – (leuk = white, emia = blood).
There are multiple forms of leukemia, but the four basic groups are:* Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). This type of leukemia is the most common form in children. Adults can also get ALL, and it’s often curable with chemotherapy.* Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This common form of leukemia affects children and adults. This is the most typical form of acute leukemia in adults. Most subtypes are more difficult to cure with chemo alone, particularly in the elderly.* Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The most common form of chronic adult leukemia, CLL may not require treatment for decades.* Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Uncommon in children, this leukemia most likely affects adults. People with CML may be asymptomatic for months or years before the condition worsens. Treatment has changed dramatically from receiving someone else’s blood and immune stem cells to oral tablets with “targeted drugs.”
Q. What are the symptoms of leukemia?A. Although signs and symptoms of leukemia vary based on the type of disease, there are some similar symptoms, including:* Anemia that leads to pale skin* Unexplained bleeding* Bruising* Infections* Fatigue* Night sweats* Red spotting of the skin * Shortness of breath* Weakness* Weight loss
If you notice these symptoms, contact your health care provider. Other conditions may produce similar symptoms, so it’s always best to seek expert medical advice to determine the cause.
Q. What is lymphoma?A. Lymphoma is a name for a group of cancers of the lymphatic system. The organs of the lymphatic system include the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and bone marrow.
The two major groups of lymphoma are:* Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The less common of the two, Hodgkin’s lymphoma results from abnormal cell growth in the lymphatic system.* Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In non-Hodgkin’s, tumors develop from types of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin’s is much more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Q. What are the symptoms of lymphoma?A. The symptoms of lymphoma can often imitate those of leukemia. For instance, fevers or abnormal lymph tissue growth in the nodes, tonsils and spleen can occur in both diseases. But other signs more exclusive to lymphoma may include:* Swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, groin or neck* Swollen liver or spleen* Stomach pain and swelling* Chest pain, coughing and difficulty breathing
Again, your health care provider is your best resource to determine the underlying cause of these symptoms.
Q. How can you cope with a leukemia or lymphoma diagnosis?A. Receiving a diagnosis of leukemia, lymphoma or any other cancer will likely place significant strain on you and your loved ones. Some recommendations for getting through this tough time include:* Finding strength in friends and family. One of the best support systems is your friends and family. They are there to listen and assist you in the emotional and physical obstacles your disease presents. Cancer support groups are often a beneficial resource as well. * Exercising. As long as you feel strong enough, get daily exercise. This can help to strengthen your body, as well as alleviate daily stresses. Discuss any limitations imposed by your situation with your provider.* Eating right and resting well. A healthy diet and proper rest schedule can aid in reducing the fatigue and stress that cancer brings.* Getting involved in your care. It’s easy to withdraw and become discouraged after finding out you have cancer. Discuss what realistic hope there is for you with your provider. Always feel free to take an active role in your health care experience.
Q. What is the best way to reduce your risk for cancer?A. You reduce your risk to develop cancer if you eat well, avoid tobacco, stay physically active, and avoid unsafe chemical, infectious or radiation exposures.
Awareness is powerful. With your newfound knowledge of leukemia and lymphoma, you can help fortify the fight against cancer.
Stephan Thomé, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System oncologist and hematologist.
For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
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