Thousands of people are diagnosed with leukemia every year in the United States. Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects white blood cell production in the body. Leukemia cells and leukemic blast cells are produced by bone marrow, and they inhibit the production of healthy white blood cells. And because leukemia cells can accumulate in the body, their presence can diminish the number of white and red blood cells necessary to transport oxygen and fight infections throughout the body. Leukemia cells do not degenerate or age, making it possible for them to stifle the production of healthy cells and spread to various organs in the body.1
There are several different types of leukemia. Some types are known to be more aggressive than others, and may require different forms of treatment. Similarly, some forms of leukemia are more common in younger and older patients.
Chronic leukemia is a slow-developing cancer that may not be identified in a patient until a blood test is administered. Symptoms may be mild or nonexistent early in the progression of the disease, since leukemia cells may function much like white blood cells.
Unlike chronic leukemia, acute leukemia progresses at a much faster rate, and poor-functioning leukemia cells multiply quickly. Patients with acute leukemia may experience symptoms such as bruising and fatigue.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia primarily affects older people and develops over time. The presence of an increased number of white blood cells in the blood may be used in the diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which is identified in approximately 16,000 Americans a year.2
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is an aggressive form of the disease that accumulates in the blood and bone marrow of the patient. It’s estimated that more than half of the individuals diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at any given time are children and adolescents.
Chemotherapy is perhaps the most common form of leukemia treatment.3 Chemotherapy involves the use of medications to kill leukemia cells in the body. There are several methods used to administer chemotherapy medications, including injections into the vein or spinal fluid.
Radiation therapy is often administered in conjunction with chemotherapy and uses high levels of energy to kill leukemia cells. Radiation therapy can also be focused on a specific area of the body or the body as a whole.
Stem Cell Transplants
Because healthy blood cells are destroyed along with cancerous cells during the course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, stem cell transplants can be used to replace the loss of healthy blood stem cells normally produced in the bone marrow. The Stem cell transplants are administered much like a blood transfusion.
Because stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood are extremely young and versatile, they are very effective in treating many types of leukemia, including several chronic and acute types. Stem cell therapy is most effective if the transplant is autologus (meaning that the patient receives his or her own cells) or allogeneic related (meaning the patient receives cells from a close genetic match, usually a sibling). Collecting and storing umbilical cord blood for a child ensures that these genetically-matched cells will be available for your family should the need for stem cell therapy arise.
1) National Cancer Institute (2013). Leukemia cells. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia/page3
2) National Cancer Institute (2013). Types of leukemia. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia/page4
3) National Cancer Institute (2013). Treatment. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia/page5