Leukemia in the 50+ CrowdPosted by Medicare Made Clear
Many people think of leukemia as a childhood disease, when in reality, it affects 10 times as many adults as children.1 Most people diagnosed with leukemia are over 50 years old.1
What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. The disease usually begins in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is located in the center of most bones. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Senior Health, bone marrow makes three types of blood cells.
- White blood cells to help fight infection and disease
- Red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body
- Platelets to help control bleeding by forming blood clots
In people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. As more leukemia cells are produced, they can crowd out the healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, making it difficult for blood to carry out its normal functions.
Examples of what may happen when leukemia disrupts normal cell function:1
- The white blood cells lose their ability to fight infection. The person may have frequent fevers or infections.
- Anemia, which is a shortage of red blood cells, may cause a person to feel tired.
- Not having enough blood platelets may cause a person to bleed and bruise easily.
Other Common Symptoms of Leukemia1
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the bones or joints
- Swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen)
- Swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms of acute leukemia may include vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures.
The four common types of adult leukemia are:
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A slowly-progressing cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells (lymphocytes). This cancer usually starts during or after middle age.2
Chronic myeloid leukemia. A slowly-progressing cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. This cancer usually starts during or after middle age.3
Acute myeloid leukemia. A fast-growing cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets.4
Acute lymphocytic leukemia. A fast-growing cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells (lymphocytes).5
According to NIH Senior Health, there are many methods available to treat leukemia, such as chemotherapy, biological therapy, or stem cell transplantation. Some people receive a combination of treatments.1
There are many different kinds of acute leukemia, but they all usually need to be treated right away. Some respond well to treatment and can sometimes be cured. Others are more difficult to treat.1
Treatment for chronic leukemia can often control the disease and its symptoms, but it can seldom cure the disease. However, there are several treatments now available for chronic myeloid leukemia that can help control the disease for longer periods of time than in the past.1
Just because you have some of the symptoms of leukemia, does not mean you have the disease. The flu and other common diseases have similar symptoms. Only a doctor can diagnose leukemia. If you show any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
What Is Leukemia?: NIH Senior Health
Leukemia: National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health
Medicare Made Clear: Information, tools and resources to help you make informed Medicare decisions.
1 What Is Leukemia?: NIH Senior Health, February 2013
2 Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, December 30, 2014
3 Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Treatment, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, March 16, 2015
4 Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, March 16, 2015
5 Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, March 16, 2015