Leukemia

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Leukemia

Topic Overview

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made.

When you are healthy, your bone marrow makes:

When you have leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don't do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don't stop growing when they should.

Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out the normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections. Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling or pain.

Are there different types of leukemia?

There are several different types of leukemia. In general, leukemia is grouped by how fast it gets worse and what kind of white blood cell it affects.

  • It may be acute or chronic. Acute leukemia gets worse very fast and may make you feel sick right away. Chronic leukemia gets worse slowly and may not cause symptoms for years.
  • It may be lymphocytic or myelogenous. Lymphocytic (or lymphoblastic) leukemia affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. Myelogenous leukemia affects white blood cells called myelocytes.

The four main types of leukemia are:

In adults, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) are the most common leukemias. In children, the most common leukemia is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Childhood leukemias also include acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and other myeloid leukemias, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML).

There are less common leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia. There are also subtypes of leukemia, such as acute promyelocytic leukemia (a subtype of AML).

What causes leukemia?

Experts don't know what causes leukemia. But some things are known to increase the risk of some kinds of leukemia. These things are called risk factors. You are more likely to get leukemia if you:

  • Were exposed to large amounts of radiation.
  • Were exposed to certain chemicals at work, such as benzene.
  • Had some types of chemotherapy to treat another cancer.
  • Have Down syndrome or some other genetic problems.
  • Smoke.

But most people who have these risk factors don't get leukemia. And most people who get leukemia do not have any known risk factors.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may depend on what type of leukemia you have, but common symptoms include:

  • Fever and night sweats.
  • Headaches.
  • Bruising or bleeding easily.
  • Bone or joint pain.
  • A swollen or painful belly from an enlarged spleen.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck, or groin.
  • Getting a lot of infections.
  • Feeling very tired or weak.
  • Losing weight and not feeling hungry.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

To find out if you have leukemia, a doctor will:

  • Ask questions about your past health and symptoms.
  • Do a physical exam. The doctor will look for swollen lymph nodes and check to see if your spleen or liver is enlarged.
  • Order blood tests. Leukemia causes a high level of white blood cells and low levels of other types of blood cells.

If your blood tests are not normal, the doctor may want to do a bone marrow biopsy. This test lets the doctor look at cells from inside your bone. This can give key information about what type of leukemia it is so you can get the right treatment.

How is it treated?

What type of treatment you need will depend on many things, including what kind of leukemia you have, how far along it is, and your age and overall health.

  • If you have acute leukemia, you will need quick treatment to stop the rapid growth of leukemia cells. In many cases, treatment makes acute leukemia go into remission. Some doctors prefer the term "remission" to "cure," because there is a chance the cancer could come back.
  • Chronic leukemia can rarely be cured, but treatment can help control the disease. If you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, you may not need to be treated until you have symptoms. But chronic myelogenous leukemia will probably be treated right away.

Treatments for leukemia include:

  • Chemotherapy, which uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells. This is the main treatment for most types of leukemia.
  • Radiation treatments. Radiation therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged spleen. It may also be used before a stem cell transplant.
  • Stem cell transplant. Stem cells can rebuild your supply of normal blood cells and boost your immune system. Before the transplant, radiation or chemotherapy may be given to destroy cells in the bone marrow and make room for the new stem cells. Or it may be given to weaken your immune system so the new stem cells can get established.
  • Biological therapy. This is the use of special medicines that improve your body's natural defenses against cancer.

For some people, clinical trials are a treatment option. Clinical trials are research projects to test new medicines and other treatments. Often people with leukemia take part in these studies.

Some treatments for leukemia can cause side effects. Your doctor can tell you what problems are common and help you find ways to manage them.

Finding out that you or your child has leukemia can be a terrible shock. It may help to:

  • Learn all you can about the type of leukemia you have and its treatment. This will help you make the best choices and know what to expect.
  • Stay as strong and well as possible. A healthy diet, plenty of rest, and regular exercise can help.
  • Talk to other people or families who have faced this disease. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area. You can also go on the Internet and find stories of people who have leukemia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about leukemia:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with leukemia:

End-of-life issues:

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Cause

Experts do not yet know what causes leukemia.

A risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting a disease. Risk factors for some types of leukemia include:

  • Smoking and tobacco use.
  • Being exposed to large amounts of radiation.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals in the workplace.
  • Past chemotherapy or radiation for another cancer. (This is rare, and not all chemotherapies raise your leukemia risk.)

Most people who get leukemia do not have any risk factors.

Most types of leukemia do not seem to run in families. But in some cases chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) does. There are also certain genetic conditions, like Down syndrome, that can make acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) more likely.

Symptoms

Symptoms of leukemia depend on how much the cancer has grown and may include:

  • Fevers and night sweats.
  • Frequent or unusual infections.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Headaches.
  • Bruising of the skin and bleeding from the gums or rectum.
  • Bone pain.
  • Joint pain.
  • Swelling in the belly or pain on the left side of the belly or in the left shoulder from a swollen spleen.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck, or groin.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss because you feel full and don't want to eat.

The chronic forms of leukemia often cause no symptoms until much later in the disease.

What Happens

Stem cells are made in the bone marrow. Stem cells become:

In most cases of leukemia, there are too many abnormal white blood cells. These leukemia cells crowd out the normal blood cells in your bone marrow and build up in your lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. This makes it hard for your body to fight infections.

When the leukemia cells crowd out your normal cells, your blood cannot do its job. You may bleed or bruise easily, have more infections, and feel very tired.

Survival rates are different for each kind of leukemia. A 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years or more after being diagnosed. These numbers do not necessarily show what will happen in your case. The following are estimated 5-year survival rates:1

These numbers come from reports that were done at least 5 years ago, before newer treatments were available. So chances of survival today are likely to be higher than these numbers.

What Increases Your Risk

A risk factor is anything that makes you more likely to get a disease. Most people who have leukemia do not have any known risk factors. But things that increase your risk of having leukemia include:

  • Smoking or using other tobacco products. This risk factor is linked to some cases of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).2
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation. People who were close to atomic bomb explosions in Japan during World War II and people who were close to the 1986 nuclear plant accident in Chernobyl have higher rates of some kinds of leukemia.
  • Exposure to chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde. Sometimes people are exposed to these chemicals where they work.
  • Chemotherapy or radiation used to treat a previous cancer.
  • Conditions caused by abnormal chromosomes, such as Down syndrome.
  • Infection with a type of HIV known as HTLV-1.
  • Other blood diseases, such as myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Your family history. In some cases, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) runs in families.

When To Call a Doctor

Call your doctor to schedule an appointment if you have any symptoms, such as:

  • A new lump or swollen gland in your neck, under your arm, or in your groin.
  • Frequent nosebleeds, bleeding from the gums or rectum, more frequent bruising, or very heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • Frequent fevers.
  • Night sweats.
  • Unexplained appetite loss or recent weight loss.
  • Feeling tired a lot without a known reason.
  • Swelling and pain on the left side of the belly.

Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting is a period when your doctor is checking you regularly but not treating you. It is also called observation or surveillance. It means that you and your doctor will watch to see if you develop symptoms. It may be a treatment choice if you are an older adult, depending on the stage of the leukemia and your overall health.

Watchful waiting may give as good or better results than more aggressive treatment for early stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). It is estimated that 1 out of 3 people who have CLL never need treatment.3 People who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia often live for a long time without treatment. Watchful waiting is not usually recommended for other types of leukemia.

During watchful waiting, you will:

  • Have regular appointments with your doctor.
  • Have regular medical tests, including scans and blood tests.
  • Be told which symptoms to report to your doctor immediately.

Who To See

Health professionals who can evaluate symptoms of leukemia include the following:

The diagnosis of leukemia will be done by a medical oncologist or hematologist. These specialists also treat leukemia.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

Exams and Tests

If your doctor suspects leukemia, he or she will ask about your medical history. Your doctor also will check for enlarged lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, or groin. He or she will also examine you to see if your liver or spleen is enlarged.

Your doctor will order blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and a blood profile. These provide important information about the cells in your blood. They are used to look into symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, fever, bruising, or weight loss.

If your blood work points to possible leukemia, your doctor will want to find out what kind you might have. Your treatment plan will depend on the specific kind of leukemia that you have.

Tests that look closely at unusual cells, chromosomes, or proteins on cells can show what type or subtype of leukemia you have. These tests can help guide treatment. Sometimes they can help your doctor and you know whether your leukemia is likely to go into remission or come back. In some cases, the tests can predict survival rates.

These tests include:

  • A test that looks for certain changes in the cell chromosomes from a sample of blood or bone marrow (cytogenetic analysis).
  • A test that compares cancer cells to normal blood cells to find the specific kind of leukemia (immunophenotyping).
  • A test to look for genes that are "turned on" in several subtypes of leukemia, such as acute promyelocytic leukemia. This test is called a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test, or RT-PCR.

Your doctor may also order other tests, including:

  • Chest X-rays, to find out if leukemia or an infection is the cause of lung problems such as persistent coughing, coughing up blood, chest pain, or difficulty breathing.
  • CT scan of the head, chest, and belly, to find out whether leukemia has spread there.
  • Lumbar puncture, to find out whether leukemia cells are in your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
  • MRI of the brain, to look into symptoms such as confusion, paralysis, numbness, vision problems, vertigo, or headaches. Those symptoms could mean the leukemia has spread to the brain.

Also, a biopsy of a lymph node or other tissues may be done to look for cancer cells.

Treatment Overview

The goal of treatment for leukemia is to destroy the leukemia cells and allow normal cells to form in your bone marrow. Treatment decisions are based on the kind of leukemia you have, its stage, and your age and general health.

Treatment for acute leukemia

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to fight cancer. It is the usual treatment for acute leukemia. For most people, that means receiving drugs in stages:

  • The goal of induction is to kill leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow to induce remission. During remission, there are no signs or symptoms of leukemia.
  • The goal of consolidation is to kill any leukemia cells that may be present even though they don't show up in tests. If these cells regrow, they could cause a relapse.
  • The goal of maintenance also is to prevent any remaining leukemia cells from growing. This may be done using lower doses of chemotherapy than those used during induction or consolidation. This is only used in people with ALL and a few rare forms of AML.

Some types of acute leukemia spread to the brain and spinal cord. Regular chemotherapy cannot reach those areas, because your body puts up a special barrier to protect them. A different way of giving chemotherapy, called intrathecal chemotherapy, treats these areas by injecting the drugs directly into your spinal canal to attack any leukemia cells there.

Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells. Radiation is usually given from a machine outside the body that directs radiation to the cancer (external radiation). Radiation is also used to treat acute leukemia that has spread to the brain and spinal cord.

Stem cell transplant may be part of the treatment plan for people who have high-risk acute leukemia. Most stem cell transplants for leukemia are allogeneic, meaning the stem cells are donated by someone else. The goal of a transplant is to destroy all the cells in your bone marrow, including the leukemia cells, and replace them with new, normal cells.

Treatment if acute leukemia gets worse

Sometimes leukemia gets worse in spite of treatments. Sometimes it gets better, or "goes into remission." Sometimes it comes back, or "relapses." Even when that happens, there are several treatments that may help to cure the leukemia or help you live longer:

  • Stem cell transplant. Donated cells from a "matched" donor can rebuild your supply of normal blood cells and your immune system.
  • Chemotherapy. Sometimes medicines or doses that are different from those used during your initial chemotherapy can help.

Clinical trials. People who have leukemia may enter a research program when they first start treatment or if the leukemia is not getting better. These programs test new ways to treat the disease. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.

For more information about acute leukemias in adults, see the following topics:

Treatment of chronic leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is not always treated right away. It usually gets worse more slowly than acute leukemia.

Treatment choices for CLL include:

  • Watchful waiting. CLL usually gets worse very slowly, and you may have no symptoms for some time. You and your doctor may decide to hold off on treatment for a while. During this time your doctor will watch you carefully.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation may be used to destroy cancer cells. It also may be used to shrink swollen lymph nodes or a swollen spleen. Sometimes radiation is used on the whole body to prepare for a bone marrow transplant.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of medicines that attack cancer cells. Many medicines are available to fight leukemia and help you live longer.
  • Surgery. If the spleen starts destroying red blood cells and platelets, it may need to be removed. This operation is called a splenectomy.
  • Targeted therapy with a monoclonal antibody. These antibodies can kill cancer cells, stop their growth, or keep them from spreading.

When you have CLL, your body is not able to fight infections very well. You and your doctor need to watch for any signs of infections, such as pneumonia or yeast infections. Early treatment of these and other infections will help you live longer. You can sometimes prevent certain infections or keep from getting very sick by getting a flu shot or a pneumonia vaccine. Your doctor also may give you antibiotics to prevent infection while you are being treated for leukemia.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

Chronic myelogenous leukemia is treated right away.

Treatment choices for CML include:

  • Targeted therapy with a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, such as imatinib or dasatinib, is the first treatment used for CML.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of medicines that attack cancer cells. Many medicines are available to fight leukemia and help you live longer.
  • Biological therapy. This is the use of special medicines that improve your body's natural defenses against cancer.
  • High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. After chemotherapy is completed, stem cells that were previously donated and frozen are thawed and infused.
  • Donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI). This is a treatment that may be used after a stem cell transplant. With DLI, a person is given more of their donor's white blood cells (lymphocytes).
  • Surgery. If the spleen starts destroying red blood cells and platelets, it may need to be removed. This operation is called a splenectomy.

Clinical trials are used to find out whether a medicine or treatment is safe and effective. People who have chronic leukemia are often referred to clinical trials for their treatment. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.

For more information about chronic leukemias in adults, see the following topics:

For information about hairy cell leukemia, see the following topics:

Leukemia in children

Treatments for children who have leukemia are not the same as treatments for adults who have leukemia. Children may respond and react to treatments in ways that are different from how adults respond. Also, after the leukemia has been treated, children may need to be monitored for treatment side effects that may appear months or years later.

Leukemia in children is usually treated by a medical team led by a pediatric oncologist.

For more information about childhood leukemias, see the following topics:

Palliative care

If you have leukemia, you may want to consider having palliative care along with your treatments. Palliative care is a kind of care for people who have serious illnesses. It can help you manage symptoms from your treatment. Palliative care focuses on improving your quality of life—not just in your body but also in your mind and spirit.

Palliative care may help you manage symptoms or side effects from treatment. It could also help you cope with your feelings about living with a serious illness, make future plans for your medical care, or help your family better understand your illness and how to support you.

If you are interested in palliative care, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to manage your care or refer you to a doctor who specializes in this type of care.

For more information, see the topic Palliative Care.

End-of-life issues

Even if your treatment is going well, it's a good idea to plan ahead. Talk to your family and your doctor about health care and other legal issues that arise near the end of life. Put your health care choices in writing (with an advance directive or living will). This is important, if a time comes when you can't make and communicate these decisions. Think about your treatment options and which kind of treatment will be best for you. You may also want to choose a health care agent to make and carry out decisions about your care if you become unable to speak for yourself.

For more information, see the topics Writing an Advance Directive and Choosing a Health Care Agent.

A time may come when your goals may change from treating an illness to maintaining your comfort and dignity. Your doctor can address questions or concerns about maintaining your comfort when cure is no longer an option. Hospice care professionals can provide palliative care in the comfortable surroundings of your own home.

For more information, see the topics Palliative Care, Hospice Care, and Care at the End of Life.

What to think about

When leukemia has been in remission for a long time, the word "cure" is often used. Your doctor may use the term "remission" instead of "cure" when talking about the effectiveness of your treatment. Although many people who have leukemia are successfully treated, the term remission is used because cancer can return (recur). It is important to discuss the possibility of recurrence with your doctor.

Clinical trials play a very important part in the treatment of leukemia. Clinical trials test the latest drugs and other new treatments. They have made it possible for many people with leukemia to live longer. People who are in clinical trials get all the recommended treatments for their cancer and are closely watched. Talk to your doctor about whether there is a clinical trial that might be good for you. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent most types of leukemia. Most people with leukemia do not have known risk factors. A risk factor is anything that raises your chances of getting a disease.

Some types of leukemia may be prevented by avoiding high doses of radiation, exposure to the chemical benzene, smoking and other tobacco use, or certain types of chemotherapy used to treat other types of cancer.

Home Treatment

During treatment for any stage of leukemia, there are things you can do at home to help manage the side effects of leukemia or its treatment. Home treatment may be all that is needed to manage the following common problems. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat these symptoms, be sure to use them. Eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and exercise may help you feel better.

  • Home treatment for nausea or vomiting includes watching for and treating early signs of dehydration, such as having a dry mouth or feeling lightheaded when you stand up. Eating smaller meals may help. So can a little bit of ginger candy or ginger tea.
  • Home treatment for diarrhea includes resting your stomach and being alert for signs of dehydration. It is important to drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Check with your doctor before using any over-the-counter drugs for diarrhea.
  • Home treatment for constipation includes gentle exercise along with drinking enough fluids and eating a diet that is high in fiber. Check with your doctor before using a laxative.
  • Home treatment for fatigue includes making sure you get extra rest while you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Let your symptoms guide you. You may be able to keep your usual routine and just get some extra sleep. Fatigue is often worse at the end of treatment or just after treatment is completed.
  • Home treatment for sleep problems includes establishing a sleep routine that will let you get the rest you need.
  • Eating well during treatment for leukemia includes making sure you get the nutrition you need to prevent weight loss and conserve your strength. You may find it helpful to talk with a registered dietitian (RD) to make sure you're eating a balanced diet during your treatment.

Dealing with your emotions

If you have recently been diagnosed with leukemia, you may have many different emotions. There is no "normal" or "right" way to react. But if your reaction is interfering with your ability to make decisions about your health, it is important to talk with your doctor. Your cancer treatment center may offer psychological or financial services.

You may also contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to help you find a support group. Talking with other people who may have had similar feelings can be very helpful.

There are other emotional issues you may face:

  • The diagnosis of leukemia and the need for treatment can be very stressful. You may be able to reduce your stress by expressing your feelings to others. Learning relaxation techniques may also help you reduce your stress.
  • Your feelings about your body may change. Adapting to your changed body image may involve talking openly about your concerns with your partner and discussing your feelings with your doctor. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to groups that can offer additional support and information.
  • Hair loss. This is emotionally distressing for some people. Not all cancer drugs cause hair loss, and some people have only mild thinning that is noticeable only to them. Ask your doctor whether you should expect hair loss with the drugs you will receive.

If leukemia or its treatment causes pain, there are many ways to relieve it. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines for pain, be sure to use them. And check with your doctor before trying any home treatment for pain. While some home treatments may be fine, others (such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication) may not be safe if you have leukemia.

Medications

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for many types of leukemia. Even when a cure is not possible, chemotherapy may help you live longer and feel better.

Chemotherapy for leukemia is usually a combination of drugs. This is because different drugs attack leukemia cells in different ways. The combination also helps keep the leukemia cells from becoming resistant to any one drug. Other drugs used to treat leukemia help prevent infection and help your body grow new blood cells (such as epoetin and hematopoietic stimulants).

Nausea and vomiting are the most common side effects of chemotherapy for leukemia. But having chemotherapy does not mean that you have to suffer with nausea and vomiting. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to control nausea and vomiting. There are also things you can do at home. For more information on these side effects, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Cancer: Controlling Nausea and Vomiting From Chemotherapy.

Medication Choices

Acute leukemia

Your treatment plan will include the kind of medicine that works best for the specific type or subtype of leukemia that you have.

Chronic leukemia

Medicines used for treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are taken orally (by mouth) or given intravenously for limited periods of time. If there is relapse, medicines are given again. For chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), medicine is usually taken by mouth for as long as needed. Treatment choices may include:

Medicine for nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. These side effects usually are temporary and go away when treatment is stopped. Your doctor will prescribe medicines to help relieve nausea. These medicines include aprepitant, dimenhydrinate, phenothiazines, or serotonin antagonists.

What To Think About

There are a lot of clinical trials of new medicines for leukemia. These trials have made it possible for many people with leukemia to live longer. Ask your doctor whether you are a candidate for participation in a clinical trial. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.

Surgery

In rare cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the spleen needs to be removed. This happens when the spleen is destroying red blood cells and platelets. The operation is called a splenectomy.

Often a swollen lymph node will be removed to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia. This operation is called a lymphadenectomy.

Surgery is sometimes needed to place a central venous catheter into a large vein in the chest. The catheter is a small tube that is used to give you chemotherapy and other drugs. The tube can also be used to take samples of blood or for giving blood transfusions when needed. It prevents the need for many needle sticks during treatment.

Other Treatment

The following other treatments may be used to treat leukemia:

  • Radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation can be applied to one area or to the whole body. Sometimes it is used to treat leukemia that has spread to the brain and central nervous system or to prevent this spread. It also may be used to shrink swollen lymph nodes or to prepare your body for a bone marrow transplant.
  • Stem cell transplant. Transplants usually come from bone marrow or from blood. Some transplants are autologous, meaning the stem cells come from your own body. Some transplants are allogeneic, meaning the stem cells are donated by someone else. The goal of a transplant is to destroy all the cells in your bone marrow, including the leukemia cells, and replace them with new, normal cells.
  • Clinical trials. Clinical trials investigate new ways to treat leukemia. Many leukemia patients are referred to clinical trials, and many trials have helped people to live longer. Ask your doctor whether you are a candidate for a trial. He or she may be able to answer your questions about a certain clinical trial and help you decide if it is right for you. For more information, see www.cancer.gov/clinical_trials/ or http://clinicaltrials.gov.

People sometimes use complementary therapies along with medical treatment to help relieve symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments. Some of the complementary therapies that may be helpful include:

Mind-body treatments like the ones listed above may help you feel better. They can make it easier to cope with cancer treatments. They also may reduce chronic low back pain, joint pain, headaches, and pain from treatments.

Before you try a complementary therapy, it is very important to talk to your doctor about the possible value and potential side effects. Let your doctor know if you are already using any such therapies. Complementary therapies are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment, but they may improve your quality of life and help you deal with the stress and side effects of cancer treatment.

What to think about

Many cancer patients looking for a cure are willing to try alternative treatments. Check with your doctor before using any special diets, over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, or unusual treatment methods that you may hear about. Some of them can make your side effects worse or reduce the benefits of chemotherapy.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY  10605
Phone: 1-800-955-4572
(914) 949-5213
Fax: (914) 949-6691
Web Address: http://www.leukemia.org
 

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education, and patient services. The Society's mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.


American Cancer Society (ACS)
Phone: 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)
TDD: 1-866-228-4327 toll-free
Web Address: www.cancer.org
 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) conducts educational programs and offers many services to people with cancer and to their families. Staff at the toll-free numbers have information about services and activities in local areas and can provide referrals to local ACS divisions.


National Cancer Institute (NCI)
6116 Executive Boulevard
Suite 300
Bethesda, MD  20892-8322
Phone: 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
Web Address: www.cancer.gov (or https://cissecure.nci.nih.gov/livehelp/welcome.asp# for live help online)
 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a U.S. government agency that provides up-to-date information about the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer. NCI also offers supportive care to people who have cancer and to their families. NCI information is also available to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. NCI provides the latest information about clinical trials. The Cancer Information Service, a service of NCI, has trained staff members available to answer questions and send free publications. Spanish-speaking staff members are also available.


References

Citations

  1. American Cancer Society (2010). Cancer Facts and Figures 2010. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-026238.pdf.
  2. Liesveld JL, Lichtman MA (2006). Acute myelogenous leukemia. In MA Lichtman et al., eds., Williams Hematology, 7th ed., pp. 1183–1236. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Johnston JB, et al. (2009). Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In JP Greer et al., eds., Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology, 12th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2214–2255. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

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Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised December 17, 2010

Last Revised: December 17, 2010

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