Leukemia is a cancer of the cells that make blood. It begins in your bone marrow, which is the spongy substance inside your bones that makes blood cells. The cancer spreads quickly to the blood and, over time, may spread to your organs and other parts of the body including the central nervous system. Leukemia is not a simple cancer. It is complex, consisting of several subtypes, each with a different treatment plan and prognosis. You have acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which is a type that grows fast and affects white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Your doctor was able to tell that you have leukemia by testing your blood and taking a biopsy of your bone marrow. Other tests show the type of leukemia and how far the disease has progressed.
The good news is that more treatment options exist than ever before. That means there's more hope of successfully treating leukemia.
To decide the best course of treatment for you, your health care team needs to know as much as they can about your leukemia. This may involve getting several tests and working with more than one health care provider.
Your health care team will likely include these members:
Oncologist. A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.
Oncology nurse. A nurse who specializes in treating cancer.
Hematologist. A doctor who specializes in treating blood problems.
Your health care team will answer any questions you may have and help you through each of the steps you'll take before, during, and after treatment. They will let you know what tests you need and the results of those tests. They'll help guide you in making treatment decisions.
Usually treatment for ALL begins as soon as the doctor makes a diagnosis. Once the doctor confirms that you have ALL, it is important that you begin treatment as soon as possible. This is because blood cells grow very quickly and, therefore, so do leukemia cells.
Ask your doctor if there are clinical trials you should consider which may include new drugs and other therapies. For ALL, researchers are studying the effectiveness of chemotherapy. They are also looking at drugs for people whose ALL contains the Philadelphia chromosome (a specific gene mutation that makes the cancer behave differently). Another treatment researchers are studying is called monoclonal antibodies. These are special proteins made in the lab. They attach to the leukemia cells and kill them.