Acute leukemia: symptoms and treatment

Acute leukemia is a dangerous form of cancer that affects lymphocytes, which accumulate primarily in the bone marrow and circulatory system. This disease is difficult to cure, often leads to death, salvage in many cases can only be a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, the disease is quite rare, no more than 35 cases of infection per 1 million people are registered each year. Who is more often faced with such an unpleasant diagnosis of children or adults?

What is the percentage of survival among the sick, and what specific organs suffer from leukemia in the very first weeks — we will try to answer these questions in detail in our article. In addition, we will tell in detail what features are characteristic for this disease, what symptoms it is associated with, and how it can be diagnosed. Also, we will share useful information about varieties of leukemia and how in the modern world people with this diagnosis are treated.

What is leukemia?

Acute leukemia is one of the most complex oncological diseases, which has many species and subspecies. This malignant pathological condition of white blood cells, which primarily affects the bone marrow, and then very rapidly infects many other tissues and organs, penetrating into the blood, affecting the liver, spleen and lymph nodes. Especially dangerous are acute leukemias by the fact that for a short period of time they can severely damage the central nervous system, oppressing it from the first days of infection.

Such malignant disease of the circulatory system is very aggressive, it is characterized by a pathological process of division, subsequent growth and reproduction of bone marrow cells. Often pockets of pathological hemopoiesis can be found in other parts of the body and organs of man. In other words, in a person who is sick with leukemia, malignant cells of the bone marrow begin to penetrate into the general circulatory system of the person very quickly and in large volumes, replacing healthy leukocytes.

The causes of leukemia, as well as the conditions for the formation of this disease, difficult to identify, as well as most tumorous diseases. The acute form of leukemia is unable to change into a chronic form, or vice versa. Exception is only acute myeloblastic leukemia, in various forms of which the blood is saturated with cancer cells in an amount of 30 to 90%.

What distinguishes chronic leukemia from acute?

In the form of the disease, all leukemias are divided into two groups — acute and chronic. To attribute the disease to the first or second group is possible if it is established with what speed the cancer cells grow and multiply.

Chronic form

This is the pathology of lymphatic tissue development, which is characterized by a slow growth of the tumor, while the infected leukocytes accumulate in the periphery of the circulatory system, lymph nodes and the bone marrow itself. In this form, significant disturbances in the functioning of the circulatory system can be seen only in the late stages of the disease. With chronic leukemia, a new population of cancer cells gradually displaces healthy cells.

Acute form

This form of leukemia is different in that at the very beginning of the disease in the blood of a person concentrates a large number of cancer cells. However, they almost do not develop, but even immature cancer cells can interfere with the normal functioning of the circulatory system. As we noted earlier, different forms of leukemia are incapable of moving into each other. With this form of the disease, the number of damaging cells increases at a very high rate.

Diagnosis of leukemia

Before the doctor delivers the final diagnosis to his patient and begins appropriate treatment, he must assign him a number of mandatory diagnostic procedures:

  • Medical examination.
  • Calculate the leukocyte count in the blood test.
  • Examine the bone marrow and establish the area of ​​injury.
  • Immunophenotyping can recognize specific immune markers that correspond to a certain form.
  • Lymph node biopsy is also necessary if the lesion affects them too.
  • Determination of the level of β2-microglobulin
  • Cytogenetic analysis, with which you can find out the most detailed characteristics of cancer cells.
  • Finding out how big the level of immunoglobulin is in the blood, you can tell whether there is a risk of complications of infectious nature in the patient.

Types of acute leukemia

Among acute leukemias, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloblastic leukemia are most common. What are the symptoms and characteristics of the disease have acute lymphatic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia?

Lymphoblastic leukemia in acute form

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia can be characterized by a lesion, primarily of the bone marrow, and a little later, and lymph nodes, as well as the thymus gland and spleen. If acute leukemia is diagnosed in children, then most often it is lymphocytic leukemia, in the risk group babies between the ages of one to six. This disease affects the nervous system of the child, but not immediately, most often it occurs after a course of chemotherapy or with another relapse.

When children get acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer cells can be found not only in the bone marrow, but also in the peripheral blood, as well as in other systems and organs of the child’s body. Moreover, these infected cells correspond to the type of lymphoblasts, which is why this type of disease has such a name. Tumor cells in this case have in the cytoplasm Schick-positive granules, do not contain lipids. If to study different phenotypes of sick cells, then acute lymphoblastic leukemia can be divided into two forms:

  1. Acute lymphatic leukemia of the B-form, the percentage of patient survival is 30% in adults, and 60% in children
  2. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia of the T-group has much more sad predictions of the survival of patients of all ages.

Myeloblastic leukemia in acute form

Acute myeloblastic leukemia most often affects the body in the adult population. It should be noted that acute myelogenous leukemia has a more optimistic prognosis for the patient than acute lymphoblastic leukemia: in most cases partial remissions are found — up to 80%, complete remission is observed in a quarter of patients. Acute myeloid leukemia is characterized by such parameters of cancer cells:

  • The cytoplasm is Schick-positive, moreover, diffusely colored.
  • They contain lipids, peroxidase, esterases, which is not typical for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • In acute myelogenous leukemia, the tumor cells are filled primarily by the bone marrow, which in the process of infection receives a macroscopically pyoid appearance.
  • Later cancer cells affect the liver and spleen, as well as lymph nodes.
  • The mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines also suffer, which causes serious complications of the disease, up to the stomach ulcers.
  • Acute myeloblastic leukemia is also characterized by the damage of the lungs, in rare cases — the membranes of the brain.

What are the symptoms of acute leukemia?

As a rule, a specific form of the disease is established after a long course of diagnostic manipulation. But regardless of the form that affected the human circulatory system, lymphoblastic or acute myeloid leukemia, the first symptoms of the disease will be similar.

Common Symptoms

With leukemia, even at the initial stage, there will definitely be such symptoms:

  1. A person starts to lose weight sharply, but this is not associated with a diet or with intense physical activity.
  2. The general state of health is significantly deteriorating, the patient is getting tired every day.
  3. During the initial stage of the illness, one can feel unexpected weakness, unwillingness to do anything, drowsiness.
  4. Regardless of the calorie and fat content of the food, the patient may feel a heaviness in the abdomen, especially in the left part under the ribs.
  5. If the patient has previously rarely encountered infectious diseases, but has recently become more inclined to them, it’s worth visiting a doctor.
  6. In patients with leukemia, regardless of the form and stage of infection, there is increased sweating of the body.
  7. A person may have a sharp loss of appetite, as well as a rise in body temperature.

Nonspecific Symptoms

The deterioration of the patient’s condition is explained by the fact that the number of red blood cells in his blood drops sharply, as healthy bone marrow cells are replaced by cancer cells. As a result of this substitution, in all patients in the blood, much less leukocytes and platelets become available, which can not fully perform their functions. Previously, we indicated the general symptoms of the disease, but with leukemia, nonspecific symptoms often appear, and they can not be immediately related to cancerous diseases:

  • Since in the blood the number of red blood cells decreases with each day of the disease, a person begins to suffer from anemia. As a result of anemia — the skin becomes pale, the patient quickly becomes tired, he has shortness of breath.
  • As the blood levels of platelets also drop, the patient may have bruises, bleed gums, and sometimes experience nasal bleeding.
  • If, in addition to the bone marrow, leukemia began to affect other organs, then a wide variety of disabilities may occur, including headaches and general weakness, vomiting and convulsions, visual impairment, and abnormal gait.
  • Symptoms and aching pains of bones and joints that are affected by cancer cells
  • Leukemia causes an increase not only in the lymph nodes, but also in the liver and spleen.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia can also affect the gums, they will swell and hurt, may even become covered with a rash.
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia affects the thymus gland, it increases, making it difficult for the patient to breathe, and may have shortness of breath.
  • In rare cases, edema of the face and hands is observed, such symptoms are one of the most dangerous, since they indicate a violation of the blood supply to the brain. In this case, treatment should be started immediately.

Reasons for the appearance of leukemia

For some reasons, some people are prone to leukemia, and others — not? It is almost impossible to answer this question unambiguously, since the causes of the origin of the disease have not yet been identified. But medicine knows the risk factors that can increase the likelihood of the disease:

  1. Everyone knows that smoking can provoke lung cancer, but not everyone understands that this bad habit can negatively affect the condition of those tissues and organs that do not have contact with cigarettes and smoke. It has been scientifically proven that smoking increases the risk of contracting myeloid leukemia in an acute form.
  2. The same type of leukemia as in smoking can be triggered by prolonged contact of the patient with gasoline
  3. High doses of radiation exposure can cause acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  4. In a group of people at risk, those who have already survived the treatment of malignant tumors of other parts of the body. It is confirmed that leukemia, as the leukemia is called in another way, may appear for another nine years after treatment of another tumor.
  5. Increased the number of cases among those who have additional rare diseases, as well as infected with the virus HTLV-1.

So, we repeat, unambiguous causes of this disease have not been identified, but in the power of each patient to exclude possible risk factors — to quit smoking and not to contact with gasoline.

How is acute leukemia treated?

When choosing leukemia treatment, the doctor always takes into account not only his form, but also specific characteristics of the disease:

  • What is the age of the patient
  • how many leukocytes are left in his blood;
  • what is the response to chemotherapy
  • it matters also whether this person is the first to have a malignant disease.

Given the combination of all factors, a specialist can choose one or more treatment methods, which we will discuss below.


Treatment of leukemia by these methods involves the destruction of cancer cells with the help of special drugs that can be used orally and intravenously. Chemotherapy is considered the most effective way to combat tumor cells. But despite the obvious benefits of this method of treatment, it has a strong negative effect on the patient’s body.

When destroying leukemia cells, a large number of healthy cells die, especially those that are characterized by a high growth rate. Among them, directly bone marrow cells, hair follicles, intestinal mucosa and oral cavity. After this procedure, the patient can not only completely bald, but also suffer from vomiting, can lose appetite for a long time. As a rule, before the course of chemotherapy, the patient is prescribed potent antibiotics that will not allow the development of infectious processes in the weakened organism.

Stem cells transplantation method

This method of treatment is used in conjunction with the previous one, it is designed to fill the shortage of destroyed stem cells. Cells planted in the bone marrow of the patient, contribute to the early recovery of healthy cells that produce blood cells. Most often in such cases, stem cells are taken from a healthy donor, they enter the body of a patient with leukemia in the form of a normal blood transfusion. It should be noted that this method also has many serious contraindications and side effects.

Radiation therapy

This method of treatment is used much less often, mainly if the central nervous system or the testicles of a male patient is affected.