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Leukemia is a complex blood cancer that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Its exact cause has multiple factors such as previous exposure to radiation and chemicals, genetic abnormalities and a history of blood or solid cancers. Read more to learn about symptoms, prevention and treatment.

Sep. 19, 2023

By Angela Malarcher, MD
WellMed at Embassy Oaks
San Antonio, Texas

Leukemia is a complex blood cancer that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Its exact cause is multifactorial, and factors such as previous exposure to radiation and chemicals, genetic abnormalities and a history of blood or solid cancers can increase the risk of developing the disease.

 Signs and symptoms

Leukemia affects white blood cells, resulting in a range of nonspecific symptoms that can begin as mild fatigue, weight loss and skin bruising. These symptoms can worsen over time. As the abnormal cells accumulate in the bone marrow or solid organs, such as the spleen and liver, platelets and red blood cells can become depleted, leading to anemia, easy bruising, bleeding, abdominal pain and organ enlargement.

 Diagnosing leukemia

Detecting leukemia requires a thorough checkup. During a physical examination, your doctor may observe an enlarged liver, pale skin or abnormal skin lesions. Special imaging and a bone marrow biopsy test can aid in making a final diagnosis, allowing the gathering of information for a multidisciplinary team to decide on appropriate plan of care.

 Treatment options

Leukemia treatment is tailored to each individual based on age, health status and type of cancer. This usually involves blood and bone marrow tests, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplantation and medications. These treatments are designed to eliminate active cancer cells, prevent reoccurrence of new cancer cells and minimize the side effects of treatment drugs.

Once a primary care physician has suspected or diagnosed a patient with leukemia, a multidisciplinary approach is taken, involving consultation with a hematologist oncologist in order to personalize a treatment plan based on test results and genetic counselling.

 Prioritizing prevention

As primary care physicians, we provide health guidance and empower our patients to promote wellness. Regular health screenings are an essential part of maintaining good health. If you feel fatigued, have unusual bruises or find yourself getting sick often, do not assume that you have cancer, but do consult with your doctor.

Facing leukemia is not easy, but friends, family and medical professionals can offer the support that you need. By coming together, understanding your options and managing your expectations, you can make it through this journey and ultimately achieve a better quality of life.

Click here to listen to Dr. Malarcher’s Docs in a Pod episode on “Shedding Light on Leukemia”.

Dr. Angela Malarcher is an experienced internal medicine physician who provides personalized care for her patients. Dr. Malarcher completed her medical degree at the State University of Pernambuco Medical School UPE – FCM in Recife, Brazil. She then went on to complete her internship and residency at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Malarcher is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. Dr. Malarcher strives to ensure her patients receive the best care available.

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