Around 60,300 cases of leukemia are reported annually in the United States. Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells and bone marrow, changing the way blood cells form. Bone marrow is the soft material in the center of bones that makes stem cells, which then turn into different type of blood cells.
A healthy person’s bone marrow makes the white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that transport oxygen and platelets that are necessary for blood clotting. The bone marrow in a person with leukemia produces abnormal white blood cells, also called leukemia cells. These cells grow faster than normal white blood cells and do not provide the same benefits. They push out the healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets and inhibit them from functioning properly. Leukemia cells spread to the organs and lymph nodes, resulting in pain and swelling as well as increasing the risks for several complications and symptoms.
There are many different types of leukemia, some that most often affect children and some that develop more often in adults.
Leukemia is categorized by the type of white blood cells the disease affects and how quickly it progresses.
In terms of time, leukemia is divided into acute and chronic leukemia. Acute leukemia develops quickly, causing people to feel symptoms almost immediately.
Chronic leukemia affects white blood cells that are more mature. These blood cells may continue to function properly for some time. People with chronic leukemia may not experience symptoms for several years. Chronic leukemia sufferers may not require as aggressive of treatment as people with acute leukemia.
Leukemia is also categorized as either lymphocytic or myelogenous. The assigned category is dependent upon the cells affected by the disease. Lymphocytic leukemia targets white blood cells called lymphocytes or lymphoid cells. These cells make lymphatic tissue that forms the immune system. Lymphocytic leukemia is also called lymphoblastic leukemia.
Myelogenous leukemia affects white blood cells called myelocytes or myeloid cells. These cells become white blood cells, red blood cells and the cells that make platelets.
Types of Leukemia
There are four main types of leukemia, including:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- Acute myelogenous leukemia
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia
There are also subtypes of these main forms of leukemia and more rare types of the disease.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) most commonly affects children, though adults can get this type of leukemia too. People with ALL have abnormal white blood cells that crowd out normal blood cells and make it difficult for blood to do its work.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Symptoms
People with ALL develop symptoms similar to other forms of leukemia as well as unique symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal pain
- Bone pain
- Shortness of breath
- Bruising easily
- Easy bleeding
- Pain in the ribs
- Feeling of fullness in the lower portion of the ribs
- Painless lumps on the abdomen, groin, armpits or neck
Certain risk factors increase the possibility of developing ALL, but do not mean that a person will definitely get the disease. People who are at greater risk for ALL include:
- Adults over 70 years of age
- People given chemotherapy
- People who have been exposed to radiation
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia in adults, particularly adults over the age of 55. Although it can develop in children, it is rare. Over 15,000 people develop CLL annually in the United States.
The disease progresses slowly and changes the lymphoid cells. People with CLL are more vulnerable to infection because of decreased immune function caused by the abnormalities in the lymphoid cells.
Symptoms of CLL
People with CLL may have experience some of the common leukemia symptoms as well as issues with their spleens and lymph nodes. Symptoms of CLL include:
- Appetite loss
- Lack of energy
- Muscle weakness
- Night sweats
- Swelling and pain in the lymph glands
- Swelling and pain in the spleen
- Weight loss
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a common type of leukemia seen in adults and children. Approximately 13,000 people get this type of leukemia each year. AML targets myeloid cells. The disease progresses quickly. AML is sometimes called acute granulocytic leukemia, acute nonlymphocytic leukemia or acute myeloblastic leukemia.
Symptoms of AML
AML may cause different symptoms in adults in children. Both may experience the common symptoms of myelogenous leukemia, such as:
- Fullness below the ribs
- Pain below the ribs
- Night sweats
Adults may also experience weight loss. Children can present unique symptoms, such as:
- Bone pain
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Joint pain
- Painless lumps that are blue or purple
There are several subtypes of AML, each with different chromosome changes in the cells and different proteins on the surface of cells. Treatment programs may differ by subtype.
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) mainly develops in adults and is responsible for around 5,000 of the leukemia cases diagnosed annually. CML can develop in children, but is mainly seen in adults over the age of 50. It is also more often found in women than men and in people with a gene mutation called the Philadelphia chromosome.
CML targets myeloid cells. The disease causes the body to make large amounts of myelocytes, or leukemia cells. These cells are white blood cells with a reduced ability to combat infections.
There are three phases of CML, including the chronic, accelerated and blast crisis phases. It may take months or ever years before a person with CML experiences symptoms. Typically, CML develops slowly and symptoms do not present until it reaches a phase of the disease that causes the leukemia cells to develop at an increased pace.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia is also called chronic granulocytic leukemia or chronic myeloid leukemia.
Symptoms of CML
People with CML may experience problems with their spleen or symptoms similar to those in caused by other types of leukemia. Symptoms of CML include:
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Swelling in the spleen
- Pain in the spleen
Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia
Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) is one of the more rare forms of leukemia. It develops mainly in children under 2 years of age. Children with certain conditions, including Noonan’s syndrome and neurofibroatosis, are at a greater risk for developing JMML.
Symptoms of JMML
Children with JMML may present with few symptoms toward the beginning of the condition. JMML develops slowly, causing symptoms to appear years after the disease develops in some people. The symptoms of JMML include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of energy
- Bruising easily
- Joint and bone pain
- Recurrent infections, such as bronchitis and tonsillitis
Hairy Cell Leukemia
Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is one of the least common types of leukemia. It is a chronic form that causes white blood cells to change, appearing as if the cells have small hairs on them when examined under a microscope. HCL also makes the body produce excessive amounts of white blood cells called malignant B lymphocytes. These cells accumulate in the bone marrow and the blood, pushing out the healthy blood cells and leaving people vulnerable to anemia and infections.
Men are more likely to develop hairy cell leukemia than women. People over 50 years of age are also more at risk for HCL. Younger adults may develop this type of leukemia, but it is not found in children and teenagers.
Symptoms of Hairy Cell Leukemia
Hairy cell leukemia progresses slowly overtime so treatment is not always immediately necessary. There is no cure for hairy cell leukemia, but some people can live out a normal lifetime with treatment that suppresses symptoms.
Symptoms of HCL include:
- Easy bruising
- Frequent infections
- Pain and swelling in the spleen
- Weight loss
What causes leukemia, including the individual types, is unknown. There are certain conditions that are associated with the development of leukemia. Potential risk factors include:
- Certain drugs
- Chemotherapy agents
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Down syndrome
- Exposure to benzene and other petrochemicals
- Exposure to electromagnetic energy and high energy radiation
- Fanconi’s anemia
- Hair dyes
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Smoking cigarettes
- Viral infections, such as HIV
Genetic factors can also play a part in the development of leukemia. Mothers can sometimes transmit leukemia to their unborn children. The DNA in blood cells sometimes mutate. This can lead to the production of the abnormal cells that cause leukemia symptoms.
Diagnosing leukemia involves taking a medical history, a physical examination and looking at samples of blood and bone marrow. Doctors often first detect leukemia during a routine blood test. If a person has symptoms of leukemia, additional procedures including tests and taking a history are performed.
A physical examination looks for signs and symptoms of leukemia. A physical exam looks for signs, such as:
- Pale skin
- Swollen or enlarged liver
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes
- Swollen or enlarged spleen
During a physical exam, doctors also review a patient’s medical history, family history, work history, current symptoms and lifestyle.
Blood tests reveal if a person has abnormal platelets or blood cells, as well as the number of white blood cells. Looking at the cells under a microscope can show if they have an abnormal shape or size. People with leukemia may have an abnormally high number of white cells and low counts of red blood cells and platelets. White blood cells counts can be normal though in some of the acute childhood leukemias. The blood tests also reveal if a person’s liver and kidney are functioning well and if there are leukemic cells in a person’s spinal fluid.
Bone Marrow Test
Some people may be given a bone marrow test, also called bone marrow aspiration or biopsy. This procedure involves inserting a needle into a hipbone, or other large bone. The needle removes a small sample of both solid and liquid bone marrow from the inside of the bone.
The sample is then examined for leukemia cells by a hematologist or a hematologist-oncologist. The specialist looks for leukemic cells and if they are present exams the cell’s appearance gives clues as to how to best treat the leukemia. Sometimes, this is the only way to confirm a leukemia diagnosis.
Imagine studies using machines may also be part of the diagnostic process. Tests may include an MRI, CT scan, ultrasound or X-ray. These imaging studies reveal if a patient has an enlarged liver or spleen. In children, these tests can also reveal other causes of symptoms besides leukemia.
To classify certain types of leukemia, doctors may exam the chromosomes of abnormal cells for any irregularities. A spinal tap may be performed to discover if the cerebrospinal fluid around the spinal cord or the fluid around the brain has leukemia cells. This alerts doctors if leukemia cells have reached the central nervous system. If cells accumulate there they can alter a person’s mental processes.
A spinal tap involves a puncture to the lumbar spine to remove some of the cerebrospinal fluid. A doctor inserts a hollow needle into the lower back. The procedure may be performed in a doctor’s office by a blood specialist. A specialist looks for leukemia cells in the cerebrospinal fluid.
Chest X-rays are not uncommon during a leukemia diagnosis. A chest X-ray reveals any signs of infection or lymph node involvement.
Another test that may be done is a lymph node excision. This involves biopsying a swollen lymph node. The procedure is rarely used, but may be required when results of a bone marrow are hard to interpret.
Stages of Leukemia
Leukemia is classified into different stages or phases after a diagnosis. The stage of leukemia indicates the extent of the disease and how far it has progressed in the affected areas of the body. The purpose of staging leukemia is usually to assist in determining the best treatment therapy and risk factors. Different types of leukemia use different staging systems.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia has three phases. The phases are determined by the number of leukemia cells in the bone marrow and blood. These cells are called blasts.
The first phase of CML is called the chronic phase. This is generally the phase most people are in when first diagnosed. There are few symptoms during the chronic phase. Some people have no symptoms. A person can remain in the chronic phase for years.
The second phase is called the accelerated phase. During this phase, people often feel pain in their bones, experience fevers and may have an enlarged spleen. The blasts grow rapidly during the accelerated phase. Without treatment, leukemia progresses to the third phase, the blast crisis phase.
The blast crisis phase brings several potential symptoms, including bone marrow failure. Other symptoms of the blast crisis phase include:
- Enlarged spleen, causing pressure beneath the ribs on the left side
- Easy bruising
- Low-grade fever
- Night sweats
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is classified into five stages starting with stage 0. During stage 0, there are no symptoms, but an excess of lymphocytes in the blood. It is a chronic, slow moving stage.
Stage 1 is the next stage. It is also a chronic stage. People in stage 1 have an excess of lymphocytes. The lymph nodes are bigger than normal during this stage.
Stage 2 is classified by large lymph nodes and an excess of lymphocytes. The spleen and liver are also bigger than normal.
During stage 3, a person has enlarged liver, spleen or lymph nodes and the excess of lymphocytes. People in this stage also lack a normal amount of red blood cells.
A person in stage 4 has too few platelets and red blood cells. The stage is also characterized by an excess of lymphocyte and larger than usual lymph nodes, spleen or liver.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Stages
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is not classified into stages the same way that CLL and CML are. However, ALL is still categorized by the progression of the disease in adults and the risk groups in children. ALL in adults is classified as either:
- In remission
In children, ALL is divided into risk groups. The risk groups are:
- Standard risk
- High risk
Children classified as standard risk are considered low risk.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is not categorized into standard stages. AML is broken into subtypes and classified by whether the disease has spread outside of the bone marrow and blood. These classifications help determine the type of treatment necessary.
Leukemia treatment involves two parts. One part of treatment is to combat the cancerous cells. The second goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and the side effects associated with the primary leukemia treatment. The second type of treatment is called supportive care.
Conventional treatment for leukemia includes chemotherapy and other drugs. Some people may need a combination of both or just one depending on the type of leukemia and the stage of the disease. The patient’s ability to handle chemotherapy is also a factor in the development of a treatment plan. Occasionally, doctors may use surgical procedures to treat some types of leukemia. The timing of treatment is also dependent upon the type of leukemia.
Treatment for people with acute leukemia must begin quickly. People with acute leukemia typically receive treatment in a hospital. The main goal is to kill leukemia cells and the treatment of choice is frequently chemotherapy.
Chronic leukemia may not need immediate treatment. Once diagnosed, people with CLL may not get treatment for a long time. Doctors frequently use chemotherapy or monocolonal antibody therapy to treat CLL when people need it. Some people may need a bone marrow transplant.
People with CML do require quick treatment. Doctors treat CML with drugs that block the cancer gene. The drugs may include Gleevec, Sprycel or Tarigna, or sometimes a combination of all three. Although the drugs can prevent CML from worsening, the only way to cure CML is a bone marrow transplant. Younger people have a better success rate for bone marrow transplants than older adults.
Chemotherapy is the most commonly used method for treating leukemia. It is a form of drug treatment that cures leukemia by killing leukemia cells using chemical agents. Curing leukemia means that tests reveal no sign of leukemia and the patient does not relapse. It does not guarantee that a person will never go out of remission and get leukemia in the future.
Some forms of leukemia may need one chemotherapy drug, but other people require several different drugs. Chemotherapeutic drugs are given as oral pills or are administered intravenously into a vein. For ease of use, many patients are fitted with a semi-permanent IV line in their upper chest. A catheter goes into a large vein in the chest that allows the IV line to get to the vein. The catheter is a plastic tube kept in place with a few stitches.
Patients with leukemia cells in their spinal fluid receive chemotherapy drugs directly into the cerebrospinal canal using a process called intrathecal chemotherapy. Drugs that go into an IV through a vein do not penetrate the brain or cerebrospinal fluid enough to kill the leukemia cells. Some patients may also have a sac called an Ommaya reservoir filled with chemotherapy drugs inserted into a ventricle of the brain.
Some people may be able to take chemotherapy treatments in their homes. Whether people require treatment in a hospital or if they can get treatment at home depends upon the physical condition of the patient and what type of chemical agent that person receives.
Doctors generally administer chemotherapy in cycles with breaks in between. A cycle of chemotherapy may last days or weeks, followed by time off for a person to deal with side effects and rest. Another treatment cycle is then repeated. Sometimes, doctors perform bone marrow tests between cycles to evaluate how a person is being affected by chemotherapy side effects.
Typically, patients go through two to six cycles. The exact number of cycles prescribed are determined by an individual’s risk factors and type, or subtype, of leukemia.
There are generally considered to be three phases of chemotherapy. Not everyone is given all three phases. The number of phases used depends upon the type of leukemia.
The first phase of chemotherapy is called induction. During this phase, chemotherapy drugs work to bring someone into remission by killing the most leukemia cells possible.
The second phase is called consolidation. The purpose of this phase is to eliminate any surviving leukemia cells not destroyed during induction. These surviving cells are not always seen but instead are assumed to be there.
The third phase of chemotherapy is called maintenance. During this phase, lower doses of chemo are used for the purpose of keeping a person in remission. The maintenance phase may last up to two years.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy not only destroys leukemia cells, it also quickly kills healthy cells and causes other side effects. The side effects that a person experiences depends upon the type of drug given. People generally have more severe side effects if taking higher doses of chemotherapy drugs. Some people are more sensitive to drugs and therefore may experience greater side effects.
Certain parts of the body fair worse than others from chemotherapy. These areas include the places in the body that cells quickly reproduce. The areas most affected include:
- Bone marrow
- Digestive system
- Hair follicles
The nails on the fingers or toes may also be affected on some people. The nails may cease growing, crack or splinter due to the effects of chemotherapy.
The most common side effects from chemotherapy include:
- Esophageal irritation
- Hair loss
Chemotherapy can also lead to anemia, bleeding issues and infection because of the lack of healthy cells. Doctors may give patients antibiotics, anti-infective agents, injections of healthy red blood cells or transfusions of platelets or red blood cells.
Biological Drug Therapy
Biological drug therapy is a type of treatment that uses medications similar to the body’s immune system. The goal of this therapy is to boost the immune system’s ability to combat disease. A healthy immune system has a better chance of fighting leukemia cells.
The drugs contain proteins that are synthetic versions of the ones made by the immune system to destroy invaders. These proteins can help to fight the cancer cells. Examples of these drugs include interferon, interleukins and monoclonal antibodies.
Monoclonal antibodies combat the type of leukemia cells found in people with acute myelogenous leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Interferon injections are commonly given to people with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Interferon contains proteins similar to lymphocytes. These proteins can cause leukemia cells to grow more slowly in some people.
One of the newer types of leukemia treatments is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy involves chemotherapy drugs that combat leukemia cells while only doing minimal damage to healthy cells. These drugs may also result in significantly less severe side effects.
An example is imatinib (Gleevec), a drug used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. It can assist with controlling CML by inhibiting the action of a protein that resides inside the leukemia cells.
In some circumstances and for some types of leukemia doctors may recommend radiation therapy. During radiation therapy, high-energy beams, like X-rays, are aimed at places on a patient’s body where they have leukemia cells. The beams may target areas like the bones, spleen or brain where leukemia cells have accumulated in that person. Some people may have radiation used on their entire body.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is rarely used in children or on the brain unless absolutely necessary. Radiation used on the brain may result in mental difficulties later in life, such as learning problems.
Stem Cell And Bone Marrow Transplant
A stem cell transplant and/or bone marrow transplant are procedures sometimes performed together to switch out diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Before patients receive a transplant they are given high doses of either radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This destroys the diseased bone marrow and leukemic cells. Then, patients receive an infusion of new, healthy stem cells or bone marrow from a donor. In some cases the patient receives an infusion of their own cells.
The infusion is injected intravenously through a vein where the cells can then enter the bone marrow. These stem cells multiply in the bones and assist to rebuild bone marrow. The process may take two to three weeks for completion.
Donors must be a match for the person needing the stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Siblings are usually a good match. Sometimes parents match as well. When cells from a matched donor are used the process is called allogeneic, unless the cells come from an identical twin. A stem cell transplant with donor cells from an identical twin is called syngeneic.
Sometimes an autologous infusion is performed. This is when a person’s own stem cells must be used because there is willing donor that is a match, the patient’s cells are generally pretreated with chemotherapy or radiation to get rid of leukemic cells. The chances of a successful stem cell transplant is significantly lower when using a patient’s own cells than when using the stem cells from an appropriate donor.
A stem cell transplant, specifically an allogeneic or syngeneic transplant, is usually the best option for children with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML). JMML does not have a standard chemotherapy treatment, but about half of the patients with JMML who receive a stem cell transplant remain in remission for several years. Some promising chemical trials involving new drugs like tipifarnib and sorafenib are being run that may offer more treatment options for patients who are unable to receive a stem cell transplant.
Transplant Side Effects
A stem cell or bone marrow transplant may lead to side effects or complications. People with leukemia are more prone to infections. Antibiotics may be given to treat or prevent infection. Doctors may also recommend that patients receive a transfusion of platelets. This may help treat anemia and prevent bleeding.
Short-Term Side Effects
People who receive a bone marrow and/or stem cell transplant are at risk for mild to moderate side effects. These side effects generally only last a little while. Known short-term side effects include:
- Appetite loss
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin reactions
Leukemia patients are also at risk for long-term complications. These include:
- Heart damage
- Liver damage
- Lung damage
- Kidney damage
- Secondary cancers
A potential complication is called a graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). This complication develops sometimes during allogeneic transplants. GVHD is when the white blood cells in the donor consider the cells of the patient foreign and attacks those cells. Most frequently, the liver, skin and intestines are the areas of the body that become harmed.
Sometimes, this complication can happen within a few weeks of the stem cell transplant. This is called acute GVHD. The complication may develop later on, which is called chronic GVHD.
To help prevent GVHD, doctors may prescribe medications to suppress the immune system. The immune system is what directs white blood cells to attack invaders and foreign bodies. Also, donated stem cells may be treated with a process known as T-cell depletion to remove white blood cells. The more closely a donor’s cells match those of a patient the lower the chances are that GVHD will develop. People who do develop GVHD may receive treatment in the form of steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs.
Even though bone marrow transplant and stem cell transplant surgeries are sometimes required, surgery is an uncommon form of leukemia treatment. However, patients with leukemia cells that have spread to the spleen and caused swelling there may need a splenectomy. A splenectomy is a procedure to take out the spleen. Typically, this surgery is only performed when the spleen’s size leads to problems with nearby organs.
Patients who go into remission following chemotherapy or other treatments are not completely out of the woods. Remission is sometimes short-lived. People may require new therapies if the leukemia returns. These therapies are referred to as second-line therapies. Stem cell transplant is usually the best second-line therapy for people who are eligible.
Alternative treatments may be effective for leukemia. Alternative medicine practitioners look at a person’s overall mind-body health. They believe that leukemia is not something separate, but is linked an imbalance in the body’s complex systems. The body can cure leukemia by bringing the systems back into balance, which allows the body’s natural defenses to combat leukemia and any illness. Alternative healers operate under the assumption that lifestyle changes to promote balance and peace of mind can improve leukemia.
Naturopathic Medicine for Leukemia
Naturopaths are holistic doctors who believe that the body has an innate healing ability to prevent and fight diseases. A naturopathic doctor works with leukemia patients to formulate a treatment plan to support conventional medicine. Naturopaths may recommend one or several alternative therapies for leukemia patients, including:
- Auricular acupressure
- Detoxification therapy
- Topical application of essential oils
Naturopathic treatments can relieve the side effects associated with leukemia, such as:
Cardiotoxicity – Cardioetoxicity is a condition characterized by damage to the heart muscle that may result from chemotherapy medications. Cardiotoxicity makes it difficult for a person’s heart to pump blood throughout the body. A naturopath may prescribe supplements like amino acids, antioxidants and herbs that support the heart.
Constipation – A person with leukemia sometimes becomes constipated. A naturopath may recommend treatments such as stool softeners, herbal laxatives, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, fiber, essential fatty acid supplements and dietary and lifestyle modifications to reduce constipation.
Cytopenia – Cytopenia is a disorder characterized by one or more blood cell types decreasing in production or stopping production completely. Naturopathic doctors often recommend homeopathic remedies and nutritional products for cytopenia. Acupuncture is sometimes recommended too. The goal of these treatments is to increase blood cell counts.
Diarrhea – Patients with leukemia may develop diarrhea from conventional leukemia treatment. Homeopathic remedies, nutritional supplements, amino acids or herbs to decrease diarrhea may be suggested by a naturopathic doctor.
Lack of energy – Lack of energy is a common leukemia side effect. A combination of nutritional supplements and herbs plus homeopathic remedies may relieve fatigue and increase energy.
Nausea – Naturopathic doctors can help leukemia patients overcome nausea with a variety of treatments. Supplements like ginger can settle a person’s stomach. Acupressure or acupuncture can help reduce nausea too. Other potential alternative treatments for nausea include aromatherapy, wrists bands and homeopathic remedies.
Mucositis – Mucositis is characterized by mouth sores. These may occur when leukemia treatments damage cells that line the mouth. Naturopathic doctors may advice nutritional supplements and mouth rinses made from sea salt or baking soda to help heal the mouth sores.
Peripheral Neuropathy – Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that affects the nerves, causing numbness, tingling, or pain frequently in the feet or hands. A combination of supplements that include amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and herbs that support the nervous system are often used to reduce symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Rash – Rash can be a side effect of radiation therapy or other leukemia treatments. Alternative treatments can help relieve irritation caused by rash. Naturopathic doctors may prescribe topical applications, such as creams or ointments.
Naturopathic doctors are not the only alternative medicine practitioners that patients may consult for alternative treatment. Professional homeopaths may recommend homeopathic remedies to decrease leukemia symptoms and strengthen people’s constitution. Homeopathy works on the belief of the Law of Similars, which states that if large amounts of a substance causes symptoms then small amounts may cure the symptoms.
Homeopathic treatments are particularly beneficial for gastrointestinal symptoms associated with leukemia and chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting. Homeopaths advice a treatment plan based on an individual’s physical, mental and emotional makeup.
Homeopaths may recommend radium bromatum for radiation poisoning. Three to five pellets every one to four hours may relieve symptoms.
An acupuncturist may be consulted for leukemia because acupuncture can reduce leukemia symptoms. Acupuncture employs thin, painless needles to specific points of the body to stimulate and control the flow of energy. Acupuncture can boost immune function and improve digestion. It is commonly used for cancer therapy support though there is little evidence of its effectiveness.
Alternative medicine healers may recommend a variety of herbal remedies for leukemia support. Two powerful herbal treatments used for complementary cancer treatment include coenzyme Q10 and polysaccharide K.
Coenzyme Q10 is a compound that the human body produces naturally, but is often found to be in low in people with cancer. A supplemental version of this compound is available in pill form or as an injection given intravenously. Coenzyme Q10 supplements boost the immune system and may penetrate into the bone marrow where leukemia cells often reside. The compound is also an antioxidant that may slow growth of cancerous cells and help to prevent cancer development.
Polysaccharide K (PSK) is a protein-bound polysaccharide that comes from a mushroom. This supplement is the best-selling cancer medicine in Japan and is sold in the United States as Coriolus versicolor. PSK may be beneficial for leukemia by prolonging remission and increasing survival time.
Probiotic supplements may be beneficial for leukemia by supporting the immune system and digestive tract. Probiotic supplements for leukemia include the Lactobacillus acidophilus strain given in amounts of five to 10 billion colony forming units (CFU) daily to maintain health.
Cesium Chloride With Limu Juice
An alternative treatment plan called the cesium chloride protocol combined with limu juice may help some leukemia patients. Cesium chloride is an alkaline mineral that can combat bacteria and immature white blood cells. It does not directly kill leukemia cells, but can improve the ability of the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Cesium chloride is able to get into cancer cells and may also destroy the microbes within the cells because it is highly alkaline. The cancer cells may then be able to change back into normal, healthy cells.
Adding limu juice to the cesium chloride protocol may increase the effectiveness of the alternative treatment. Limu juice is a blend of a specific type of seaweed with fruit and vegetable juices. The seaweed in limu juice contains a substance called fucoidan that can kill cancer cells without harming the body.
Another protocol used as an alternative treatment for leukemia is the Plasma-Beck Protocol. The electromedicine protocol works to prevent the production of leukemia cells. It accomplishes this by targeting the cancer cells in the bone marrow responsible for making leukemia cells.
To get to the bone marrow, the Plasma-Beck Protocol employs the use of a machine called the GB-4000 with M.O.P.A, an electric current device that works like a small radio tower to send signals into the bone marrow or other areas of the body.
In addition to using the electric current device, the protocol also involves drinking limu juice and taking a vitamin and mineral supplement called Eniva Vibe. Protandim, an herbal protocol, and Transfer Factor Plus to boost the immune system are used along with colloidal silver, methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) and an alkaline supplement called LIPH.
Dietary modifications can improve leukemia symptoms. One goal of dietary changes for leukemia treatment is to eliminate food allergens. Some people may have an allergic response when eating foods like wheat, dairy, soy, corn, food additives and preservatives. A doctor or medical expert can test a patient for food allergies and sensitivities.
Certain foods may also help boost the immune system. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, substances that help combat free radicals. Free radicals damage healthy tissues. Bell peppers, spinach, berries and tomatoes are high in antioxidants.
Doctors may also advise other healthy eating guidelines for people with leukemia, such as avoiding refined foods, like white bread, decreasing red meat consumption and decreasing trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are substances found in processed foods, margarine and commercially baked goods. People can improve their diet by eating more healthy oils like olive oil and lean protein foods, such as tofu, fish and beans. Coffee, tobacco and alcohol should be avoided. Six to eight glasses of water each day is beneficial too.
Exercise is beneficial for overall health. However, people with leukemia are often weak and fatigued from treatment. Light exercise is typically recommended for leukemia patients.
Additional Alternative Therapies
Although lacking in scientific evidence, other alternative therapies may be beneficial for leukemia and leukemia symptoms. These include:
- Art therapy and other expressive therapy
- Chiropractic treatments
Alternative Therapy Considerations
Alternative medicine may support conventional leukemia treatment programs, but some alternative treatments can interact with each other or conventional medicine. For example, St. John’s wort is a supplement for depression, but taking it can make skin more sensitive to radiation and increase the toxicity level of some chemical agents. Other herbs and supplements, even vitamin C, may impact treatment. Doctors can work with alternative practitioners to design a program that uses both conventional and alternative treatments safely and without risk of harmful interactions.
Once leukemia treatment ends doctors perform diagnostic studies to determine if a person has any leukemia cells still present in their body. Many people will show at least fewer leukemia cells than before. People who have no leukemia cells in their bone marrow or blood are said to be in remission. A person in remission still needs to be observed by their doctor closely. Some patients will display signs of a return of leukemia after remission. A stem cell transplant may be performed at that time.
If following initial treatment a person does still have some leukemia cells their doctor typically advises a new treatment plan. Sometimes this involves a clinical trial with drugs that are undergoing investigation into their effectiveness. New treatments continue until a person goes into remission.
Even people in remission typically still require follow-up care. It is normal for a person to have impaired organ function from the leukemia treatments. Doctors will continue to work with patients until the damage from leukemia treatments is healed.
There is no known method for leukemia prevention. However, avoiding exposure to radiation, benzene and nicotine can prevent some forms of leukemia. In general, staying away from toxic chemicals, including giving up smoking, decreases people’s chances of developing leukemia.
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- Medline Plus: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Medline Plus: Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
- MedTerms.com: Definition of Hairy Cell Leukemia
- Susan K. Komen for the Cure: Polysaccharide K (PSK)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Homeopathy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Leukemia
- WebMD: Leukemia — Topic Overview