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Leukemia

From initial diagnosis to recovery and beyond, IU Health oncologists are committed to your health

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood caused by the bone marrow producing abnormal white blood cells. 

The immune system includes white blood cells that fight disease by attacking germs that invade the body. Abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells, accumulate in the blood, crowding out healthy white blood cells.

The most common forms of leukemia fall into two major categories:

  • Acute leukemia. With acute forms of leukemia, abnormal white blood cells do not fight disease. As leukemia cells collect in the blood, normal white blood cells cannot do their work and the body becomes susceptible to infections it normally fights off. This type of leukemia usually develops quickly.
  • Chronic leukemia. Chronic leukemia involves an increase of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the blood and crowd out normal blood cells. These leukemia cells usually develop slowly.

Acute leukemia usually causes more severe symptoms that may require extensive treatment. Chronic leukemia can sometimes cause few symptoms, and it is possible to have this disease and not know it.

Symptoms of leukemia may include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes (especially lymph nodes in the neck or armpit)
  • Fevers or night sweats
  • Frequent infections
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Pain in the bones or joints
  • Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

​Overview

The most common forms of leukemia fall into two major categories:

  • Acute leukemia. With acute forms of leukemia, abnormal white blood cells do not fight disease. As leukemia cells collect in the blood, normal white blood cells cannot do their work and the body becomes susceptible to infections it normally fights off. This type of leukemia usually develops quickly.
  • Chronic leukemia. Chronic leukemia involves an increase of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the blood and crowd out normal blood cells. These leukemia cells usually develop slowly.

Acute leukemia usually causes more severe symptoms that may require extensive treatment. Chronic leukemia can sometimes cause few symptoms, and it is possible to have this disease and not know it.

Symptoms of leukemia may include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes (especially lymph nodes in the neck or armpit)
  • Fevers or night sweats
  • Frequent infections
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Pain in the bones or joints
  • Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

At IU Health, cancer experts make it their goal to heal you, not just treat your cancer. 

Your highly-skilled team uses a wide spectrum of treatments for leukemia. The particular treatments you receive depend on the personalized treatment plan your physicians develop with you and your family. They take into account your special needs and preferences, so the treatment you receive does its job effectively. 

Treatments for leukemia include:

Chemotherapy

Strong chemotherapy medicines destroy leukemia cells. You may receive chemotherapy in a clinic, at your physician’s office or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment. With advances in chemotherapy, as many as 80 percent of people undergoing this treatment continue to live normal lives.

Targeted therapy

This relatively new class of drugs blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells. They tend to treat leukemia effectively, often with milder side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

Radiation 

Radiation can destroy leukemia cells in certain parts of the body. While lying on a treatment table, a large device directs high-energy rays at your body to kill the cancer cells. You may receive radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy. You typically receive radiation therapy at the hospital or a clinic.

Bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplants involve removing bone marrow, a liquid tissue inside your bones, from a donor or from your own noncancerous tissue and injecting the marrow into your bones. Bone marrow transplants follow chemotherapy to replace any bone marrow lost during cancer treatment.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy

CAR T-cell therapy is an emerging form of cancer immunotherapy. IU Health is the only healthcare system in Indiana to offer CAR T-cell therapy to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

What is CAR T-Cell Therapy?

This CAR T-cell therapy involves supercharging a patient’s T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Your T cells are a kind of white blood cell that has the job of targeting and destroying bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. However, with certain types of blood cancers, your T cells may not be able to do their job properly.  That’s where CAR T-cell therapy may help. It is used after failure of two other kinds of treatment.

For this treatment, your blood will be collected over the course of a few hours and passed through a machine that separates out some of your T cells.

After your T cells are collected, they will be sent to a laboratory and modified to become CAR T cells. You will undergo several days of low-dose conditioning chemotherapy to prepare your body for treatment. Your CAR T cells will then be infused back into your body to help recognize and attack your cancer cells.

Treatment

At IU Health, cancer experts make it their goal to heal you, not just treat your cancer. 

Your highly-skilled team uses a wide spectrum of treatments for leukemia. The particular treatments you receive depend on the personalized treatment plan your physicians develop with you and your family. They take into account your special needs and preferences, so the treatment you receive does its job effectively. 

Treatments for leukemia include:

Chemotherapy

Strong chemotherapy medicines destroy leukemia cells. You may receive chemotherapy in a clinic, at your physician’s office or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment. With advances in chemotherapy, as many as 80 percent of people undergoing this treatment continue to live normal lives.

Targeted therapy

This relatively new class of drugs blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells. They tend to treat leukemia effectively, often with milder side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

Radiation 

Radiation can destroy leukemia cells in certain parts of the body. While lying on a treatment table, a large device directs high-energy rays at your body to kill the cancer cells. You may receive radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy. You typically receive radiation therapy at the hospital or a clinic.

Bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplants involve removing bone marrow, a liquid tissue inside your bones, from a donor or from your own noncancerous tissue and injecting the marrow into your bones. Bone marrow transplants follow chemotherapy to replace any bone marrow lost during cancer treatment.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy

CAR T-cell therapy is an emerging form of cancer immunotherapy. IU Health is the only healthcare system in Indiana to offer CAR T-cell therapy to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

What is CAR T-Cell Therapy?

This CAR T-cell therapy involves supercharging a patient’s T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Your T cells are a kind of white blood cell that has the job of targeting and destroying bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. However, with certain types of blood cancers, your T cells may not be able to do their job properly.  That’s where CAR T-cell therapy may help. It is used after failure of two other kinds of treatment.

For this treatment, your blood will be collected over the course of a few hours and passed through a machine that separates out some of your T cells.

After your T cells are collected, they will be sent to a laboratory and modified to become CAR T cells. You will undergo several days of low-dose conditioning chemotherapy to prepare your body for treatment. Your CAR T cells will then be infused back into your body to help recognize and attack your cancer cells.

Patient Stories for Leukemia

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society provides extensive information about the major forms of leukemia and treatments for you or your loved one.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

This website provides information about many kinds of leukemia and links to other resources such as support groups. It includes access to a live specialist who can help you find what you need.

MedlinePlus

The National Institutes of Health provides basic information about four types of leukemia.

National Cancer Institute

This U.S. government website contains a wealth of information about leukemia, treatments, research into better treatments, clinical trials and many other topics.

Resources

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society provides extensive information about the major forms of leukemia and treatments for you or your loved one.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

This website provides information about many kinds of leukemia and links to other resources such as support groups. It includes access to a live specialist who can help you find what you need.

MedlinePlus

The National Institutes of Health provides basic information about four types of leukemia.

National Cancer Institute

This U.S. government website contains a wealth of information about leukemia, treatments, research into better treatments, clinical trials and many other topics.