Leukemia

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What are complications of leukemia?

Many of the challenges of leukemia relate to the depletion of normal blood cells as well as the side effects of treatments as described in the previous section, such as frequent infections, bleeding, and GVHD in recipients of stem cell transplants. Weight loss and anemia are further complications of leukemia and its treatment. Complications of any leukemia also include a relapse or a progression of the disease after a remission has been achieved with treatment.

Other complications of leukemia relate to the specific type of leukemia. For example, in 3% to 5% of cases of CLL, the cells change characteristics and transform into an aggressive lymphoma. This is known as a Richter transformation. Autoimmune hemolytic anemic, in the body attacks and destroys red blood cells, is another potential complication of CLL. People with CLL are also more likely to develop second cancers and other blood disorders and blood cancers.

Tumor lysis syndrome is a condition caused by the rapid death of cancer cells when treated. It can occur in almost any type of cancer, and it is seen with some cases of leukemia, particularly when large numbers of leukemia cells are present such as with AML or ALL. The rapid destruction of the leukemia cells leads to the release of large amounts of phosphate, which further causes metabolic abnormalities and can lead to kidney failure.

Children who receive therapy for ALL may experience late adverse effects including central nervous system (CNS) impairment, slowing of growth, infertility, cataracts, and an increased risk for other cancers. The incidence of these late effects varies depending upon the age at treatment and the type and strength of therapies.

What is the prognosis of leukemia?

The prognosis of leukemia depends upon the type of leukemia that is present and the age and health status of the patient. Mortality (death) rates for leukemia are higher in the elderly than in younger adults and children. In many cases, leukemia can be managed or cured with treatments available today. In particular, childhood ALL has a very high 5-year survival rate.

Modern treatments have led to a greater than fourfold increase since 1960 in 5-year survival rates for leukemia. For the time period from 2004 to 2010, 5-year survival rates for different types of leukemia were approximately:

CML: 60%

CLL: 84%

AML: 25% overall, 66% for children and teens younger than 15

ALL: 70% overall, 92% for children and teens younger than 15, and 93% for children younger than 5

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2016
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