How fast can leukemia develop? What are the acute symptoms and how to diagnose it?

Dr. Prerna Agarwal, Technical Operations, Apollo Diagnostics, Chennai, Chennai, explains everything you need to know about Leukemia, its symptoms and diagnosis.
cancer,Health & Fitness,Leukemia,blood cancerHow fast can leukemia develop? What are the acute symptoms and how to diagnose it?
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Leukemia is a type of Cancer that harms the body's ability to make healthy blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, the soft centre of various bones. This is where new blood cells are made. There are three main types of blood cells:

· Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and take carbon dioxide to the lungs.

· Platelets help the blood to clot.

· White blood cells fight infections, viruses and diseases. Leukemia usually refers to cancer of the white blood cells. White blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don't function properly.

Leukemia is either acute which comes on suddenly or chronic which lasts a long time. 

Acute Leukemia is a most rapidly progressing cancer in which the white cells in the blood grow very quickly, over a matter of days to weeks. Sometimes a patient with acute leukemia has no symptoms or has normal blood work even a few weeks or months before the diagnosis. The change can be quite dramatic.


Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms include:

• Extreme fatigue is usually the first symptom that causes acute leukemia patients to seek medical care. They are tired for no apparent reason. They can’t move and they’re not able to walk, and it comes on fairly quickly. When we check their blood count, their red blood cell count might be half of what’s normal. That’s why they are exhausted because they are not getting enough oxygen.

• It is also common for these patients to develop pneumonia or some sort of infection which doesn’t get better even after taking many antibiotics. Then finally someone checks the blood count and discovers that they are not responding because their immune system is not effective because of the acute leukemia.

Few other symptoms are:

· Fever or chills. 

· Frequent or severe infections.

· Losing weight without trying to.

· Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen.

· Easy bleeding or bruising.

· Recurrent nosebleeds.

· Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae).

· Excessive sweating, especially at night.

· Bone pain or tenderness.


Your doctor may not suspect leukemia based on your symptoms alone. If you have signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, you may undergo the following diagnostic exams:

· Physical exam. Your doctor will look for physical signs of leukemia, such as pale skin from anemia, swelling of your lymph nodes and enlargement of your liver and spleen.

· Blood tests. By looking at a sample of your blood, your doctor can determine if you have abnormal levels of red or white blood cells or platelets, which may suggest leukemia.

· Bone marrow test. Your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of bone marrow from your hip bone. The bone marrow is removed using a long, thin needle. The sample is sent to a laboratory to look for leukemia cells. Specialized tests of your leukemia cells may reveal certain characteristics that are used to determine your treatment options.

· Genetic tests can help determine exactly what type of leukemia you have. These sophisticated tests may also offer clues as to how you will respond to a particular therapy.

By Dr. Prerna Agarwal, Technical Operations, Apollo Diagnostics, Chennai.

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