Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood or bone marrow, characterized by an abnormal increase of immature white blood cells, which play a major role in one’s ability to fight infections. The treatable disease affects more than 47,000 Americans each year and results in nearly 24,000 deaths annually. Because there are several types of leukemia, the severity of the disease, and therefore the prognosis, varies widely. Overall, the disease comes in two main varieties: chronic and acute. Acute leukemia warrants immediate treatment with chemotherapy while chronic leukemia can often be treated with oral forms of well-tolerated medications or, in some cases, can simply be closely monitored by an oncologist. Because the disease varies greatly, so do the symptoms. Chronic leukemia often is discovered unexpectedly, usually at the time of a routine blood analysis done by one’s primary care physician. Acute forms of the disease, however, often present themselves with low red blood cells (anemia), low platelets (thrombocytopenia), or severe infections due to the disruption of one’s immune system. While there are no screening tests for leukemia, patients should regularly see their physicians, who can determine when blood cell analysis is necessary.
Lymphoma also is a type of blood cancer, occurring when the white blood cells divide faster than normal cells or when white blood cells live longer than they are supposed to live, eventually causing a tumor. The disease usually affects the lymph nodes, which are part of one’s immune system. Nearly 80,000 Americans are diagnosed with lymphoma yearly and more than 20,000 people die from the disease during the same time frame. Like leukemia, lymphoma comes in two main varieties: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The vast majority of all lymphoma cases are of the non-Hodgkin variety. Major treatment advances during the past several decades have led to significant improvements in the prognosis of lymphoma, a disease that often requires chemotherapy. Occasionally, radiation also is necessary. Many patients with the disease are familiar with swollen glands that can occur during times of infection. Often, these are enlarged lymph nodes that are participating in the eradication of infections. However, persistently enlarged lymph nodes, as well as unexplained weight loss, drenching night sweats, or recurrent infections are signs and symptoms that can occur in patients with lymphoma and should be reported to your physician.